Sue's Avatar


Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Rambling's

wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand home           Current Blog              Blog archives

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.

You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.

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

Click here for this site's RSS feed.

Archive: June 2008
Jun 30th: A pink rose for a blue lady and Riverby Pinot Noir
Jun 29th: First Glass Wine Options 2008
Jun 26th: NZ Wine Blogs
Jun 25th: Genetics, Brett and Te Motu
Jun 24th: Discovering Pinot Noir
Jun 23rd: The Art of Blending
Jun 22nd: Eating wine
Jun 20th: Wine's iconic Tim Finn
Jun 19th: New Zealand trophy winners at IWC
Jun 18th: Obikwa Cheapie
Jun 17th: Confusing my P's and V's.
Jun 14th: Yalumba's new 'Single Site' Shirazes
Jun 13th: We knew it was going to be big, but did anyone predict THIS big?
Jun 12th: Compare and contrast two Main Divide Pinot Noirs
Jun 11th: Travels with Wine
Jun 9th: Warming Winter Whites
Jun 8th: BYOW could be the answer
Jun 7th: Magic Mushrooms and Merlot
Jun 5th: Matariki Celebrations start today
Jun 4th: Wine with Dinner: Saint Clair Marlborough Chardonnay 2007
Jun 2nd: WOTW: Babich The Patriach 2004
Older Entries

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

A pink rose for a blue lady and Riverby Pinot Noir

I'm the blue lady - blue with cold - and the pink rose is wine.  Unconventional at this time of the year, which is winter in New Zealand, but very satisfying never the less. The wine is Bald Hills Central Otago Blanc de Noir 2006 and it is this week's Wine of the Week (click on the link to read the review).

We accompanied the wine with Ray McVinnie's Gurnard, Tomato & Potato Stew from Cuisine Magazine, except Terakihi was used instead of Gurnard and it was slightly stinky, probably because it wasn't as fresh as it could have been (pity you can't smell the fish in the shop before you buy it), therefore a little strong flavoured for the delicate pink wine, although take the fish away and the tomato, potatoes and olives worked quite well.

rbpn.jpg (20848 bytes)However, we did have the newly released Riverby Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 to taste with it too.  Now this is a pairing I would never have dreamed of, yet the flavour combination of the fish stew and the young pinot noir was astoundingly good. So was the wine, which had been tasted earlier in the week but had developed even more beautifully in the bottle over a couple of days.

Riverby Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 is a deep ruby colour with vivid violet-red hues, not quite opaque.  It's a big, juicy number, full of fruit and spice, with a funky, savoury overlay, herbs and floral musky notes. Medium to full-bodied with a lush aftertaste full of spice, smoky oak, hints of bacon and a touch of cherry chocolate, it is rounded, smooth and very tasty and tastes much richer than it looks. Sealed with a screwcap, the bottle states 14% alcohol and the target price is $29. Find out more from  

We also had this wine earlier in the week with lamb fillet seasoned with salt and pepper, pan-fried in olive oil and served with mushroom and leek risotto. Just delish.

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

First Glass Wine Options 2008

Just got back from the 2008 First Glass Wine Options. I didn't compete because it was my sister's birthday and family is high priority these days. But I did call in to the event mid afternoon, just after the last white wine had been poured. It was the gorgeous Forrest Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2006, a triple gold and triple trophy winner last year. I missed three really good wines from all reports, especially the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2004, which people were simply raving about. That had been preceded by Te Mata Estate Elston Chardonnay 2005 and followed by the Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2005.

The reds started with Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2006 from Hawkes Bay. On first tasting I thought it was Rhône. Wrong! Once I knew it was Southern Hemisphere, it couldn't be anything other other than a top notch NZ syrah.

The next wine actually made me want to write notes because it was a simply gorgeous pinot noir. Deep ruby red, translucent, not opaque, it was undoubtably New Zealand pinot noir on the nose with a fragrant, wild herb flower scent. It tasted sublime with beautifully fine silky tannins that had just enough grip and flavours of smoke, spice, earth and ripe berry, cherry and cranberry fruit. The oak was complex and classy and there was a perfect balance of sweet and savoury with a flourish of chocolate on the rich, meaty finish. It turned out to be Julicher Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 and after tasting it in a situation like this, you can only agree with the judges who awarded it Champion Pinot Noir and Champion Wine of the Show at the New Zealand International Wine Show last year.

This was followed by Sessantanni Old Vines Primitivo di Manduria 2004 from Italy, also a trophy winner at NZIWS last year, but quite sweet in comparison to the pinot.  To finish up, the Eileen Hardy Reserve Shiraz 2002 was served.2008 Options Winners

Unfortunately my former teammates were only one of the also-rans of the 55 entries. However the top place getters were no strangers to the winners circle with the champions from two years ago regaining the first place trophy once again. The team named 4 Putt on Us were Gabor Sareczky, Bruce Thomason, John Ingle  and Curt Thomas (pictured right).

In 2nd place were last year's winners, Richard Lockhart, Cheryl Lockhart, Rob Wallace and Richard Isacs in a team named "It's not the drinking, it's the … what are we drinking?"

3rd place, after a tiebreaker taste off with the 2nd place getters, were the "Brisbane Blancos", with former National Champions, Steve and Julie MacFarlane, now resident in Brisbane joined by team mates Malcolm Meads and Niv Findlay.

The "Rioja Rangers", representing Bennett and Deller, were the top trade team and recipients of the Louis Roederer Trophy.

Options 2008 - Best CostumeBest Costume was "Kickass Imbibing Super Stars (KISS)" - see picture right.

Best Team Name was "Only Pouilly My Beaune If You Are Sancerre". They were a trade team representing Delegats.

Worst Team Name and also winners of the boot for coming last, was "Conz", representing Constellation Wines.

It was once again a great wine day - and the spectators, who only paid $20, got to taste all of the competition and hopsitaility wines too.  That's a bargain for that line-up of wines, if you ask me.
Check the First Glass website for more photos, a full list of teams and everyone's scores.

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

NZ Wine Blogs

"Wine Blogging is changing the world of Wine Journalism", says the press release of the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference.  Wine blogging is the new wine media and anyone can do it. It's so easy with software available at little or not cost.  No longer do you have to be a computer geek as well as a wine geek to have your own space on the Internet and with the use of 'feeds', the writings on blogs are being disseminated widely. According to the organisers of the conference being held in California next October, "wine bloggers are wielding increased clout". 

"Wine blogging in America has exploded in terms of the number of people maintaining wine blogs as well as their impact on how wine lovers and the industry get their news," said Joel Vincent, an organizer of the conference.

Now more and more individual kiwis are joining the wine blogging world.

I've had links to Glenda Neil's Vinote blog, Paul's Wine Consultant blog, Jules' The Wine Wanker blog and Craig's Kiwi Wine Fan Club and his team of blogging writers for some time.  More recently I've added Sarah's Wine Sup-positions blog and now I've discovered The Wine Guy whose first blog post was at the end of March this year. He's obviously in the wine industry, he says as much, although he does shop for wine a lot at Foodtown/Woolworths. Not so much wine tasting, more commentary. Some of the posts are quite entertaining, some of the comments even more so.

Blogs come and go, like the humorous and sometimes controversial Screwcaps, which lasted only a year or so, and Vinoculation, which has been static since February. 

It takes, time, dedication and effort to keep a blog, or website updated.  I know, as I've been posting articles, tasting notes, stories and news items to the Internet for over 10 years. The BLOG as we know it today didn't exist when I started my Internet presence on the Geocities community in early 1998 but what I had was an early form of a web log (blog) with my unrelenting 'Wine of the Week' reviews.  Some of the new bloggers have said *I* am new to 'blogging'.  That's not true, especially when you check out this definition.   Consider that my Wines of the Week have been recorded in reverse chronological order since the beginning.

If you know of any other dedicated New Zealand wine blogs (websites maintained by an individual), please let me know. As for columns in print magazines and newspapers that get reproduced on the Internet, I'm not so sure. 

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

Genetics, Brett and Te Motu

I've just finished reading a fascinating article written by Dan Berger, posted on the Appellation America website, titled "Your Genetics May Determine The Wines You Prefer". You can read it by clicking here.  In short he says that although a wine may be scored highly by a wine critic, you may not like it and indicates that evidence is beginning to emerge that how (and presumably what) we taste differs from person to person. He says that perhaps it is our genetics that determine the styles or types of wines we prefer.

It's a common fact that not everyone likes the exactly the same things and liking or disliking components, eg. oak, or even detecting subtle nuances in wine is no different than liking or disliking or detecting subtle nuances in food. Neil likes rhubarb. I do not. Neil can drink a glass of milk yet unadulterated milk makes me gag. However I add milk to my tea and coffee and can down a creamy chocolate milkshake, no problem.

This individual like or dislike reminds me of an article in the latest edition of New Zealand WineGrower (June/July 2008) titled "The Coming of age of Bordeaux blends in New Zealand" by Geoff Kelly. You can download the full issue of New Zealand Winegrower in PDF format from the New Zealand Winegrower website. The article starts on page 86.

Kelly writes about the role of Brettanomyces (brett) within the article. This is a type of yeast that can cause problems in wine. I detect it mostly as barnyard, farmyard, sweaty horse saddle, dirty leather, sometimes funky and sometimes, depending on the concentration or level, it can leave a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth.  If you want to read more about brett, there is a good article here.

Kelly says, "Australia, under the influence of the Australian Wine Research Institute, is rapidly becoming obsessive / absolutist about this fragrant little yeast and many in New Zealand are following in their footsteps. But the fact of the matter is wines such as second Growth Ch. Leoville-Barton …. a definitive Bordeaux to invest in for pleasure or profit …. shows brett in many vintages."

He makes the point in defence of a wine that he says many would object to as being clearly bretty, being included in his Top 10 selection.

Geoff and I obviously have quite different genetics because brett in wine in more than minuscule proportions is something quite repelling to me. However I can tolerate it at very low levels when I find it can add complexity to a wine.

Neil likes brett more than I do and enjoys drinking the bretty wines that I simply prefer to taste. And if I can, I taste over three or four days to see if my initial conclusions were correct and whether what I thought as a bretty character fades, or increases, or stays the same.

Recently we tasted Dunleavy Te Motu 2002 from Waiheke Island, a wine I thought marginally bretty on the first tasting but which Neil could not detect as bretty until Day 4. So if you like the "fragrant little yeast", you'll simply love this.Te Motu 2002 - phot by Sue Courtney

Dunleavy Te Motu Cabernet Merlot 2002 is quite saturated in colour with a black red core and still some crimson to the edges. It is deep, sweet-fruited and chocolatey on the nose with some saddle overtones - it is quite complex and intriguing. A big wine in the mouth with a huge meaty tannin structure - it seems very young and still developing (despite its 6 years of age). Fruit is mulling away in the background - a mix of plum, blackberry and even a hint of tamarillo and there is some bretty stuff going on that adds a funky mellow earthiness. Beautiful oak regime - creamy with a touch of vanilla and lovely sweet fruit filling the mouth on the finish.

I thought the wine even better on day 2 - quite savoury and biscuity and an excellent accompaniment to medium-rare fillet steak with a cherry, chocolate and red wine juice - the food complemented the savouriness and fruit sweetness of the wine. The marginal bretty character was not a problem. It sat in there well.

However on Day 3, when matched to lamb backstraps served with a mushroom risotto, I thought the gaminess of the lamb revealed quite a gamey character in the wine, which I didn't like but Neil loved. 

Neil finished the wine on Day 4.

Made from a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Syrah and 2% Malbec, Te Motu 2002 spent 30 months in oak (75-80% French, 50% new) then 3 years in the bottle before release. It has 13.5% alcohol, a natural cork closure and costs $80 at the cellar door on Waiheke Island.

Find out more from - and if you think there is a connection between Terry Dunleavy, the editor of New Zealand Winegrower, and the Dunleavy family that owns this winery, you would be right.

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

Discovering Pinot Noir

A new 'mini' wine show and tasting event was held in Christchurch at the Casino earlier this month. Convened by Terry Copeland, who was joined for judging by Pegasus Bay winemaker Lynette Hudson and consumer judge Jim Harre, they awarded six gold medals from the lineup of 61 entrants.  All the wines had to be commercially available with a retail price of not greater than $50.

The supreme award winner of the inaugural 'Discover Pinot Noir Award' was

  • Montana 'T' Terraces Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006.

The five other gold medal winners were

  • Terrace Heights Estate THE Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006
  • Olssens Jackson Barry Pinot Noir 2006
  • Whitehaven Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006
  • Mount Dottrel Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006
  • Stoneleigh Rapaura Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007

 The People’s Choice Award went to Akarua "The Gullies" Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006

"It was overall a very high standard," said Mr Copeland.

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

The Art of Blending

The new release Matariki Quintology 2004, this week's Wine of the Week, reminded me of a Matariki Wines blending workshop I attended in July 2005. Hosted by winemakers John O'Connor and Amelia Bates, the assignment was to blend the five individual wines from the 2004 vintage into the flagship wine, Quintology. A number of people were taking the workshop and there would be a blind tasting at the end to vote for the best. So with the tasting room converted into a mini chemistry lab, and armed with measuring cylinder, pipette, bottle and tasting glass, the student winemakers began.

First I tasted the individual wines noting the character of each.

The Merlot was soft and mellow with creamy vanillin oak, plum fruit, a smattering of spice and well-structured tannins. The Cabernet Sauvignon was richly varietal with cassis and plum fruit and cedary oak. The Cabernet Franc was tight with a long drawn out finish but had an overpowering barnyard character. The Malbec was sweet fruited and jammy. The Syrah was peppery and fragrant with good acidity and a spicy finish.

Matariki blending wines - photo by Sue Courtney

My blend would have structure and flavour. It would be a powerful wine, tight in its youth, made to age.

After three attempts in the allotted time, I achieved my goal with 40% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 10% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc.

Two people voted my wine as best in the tasting although I was not one of them. The overall favoured wine, with 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27.5% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 12.5% Cabernet Franc and 7.5% Malbec, was more immediately drinkable.

Now that the Matariki Quintology 2004 has been released, I can tell you the final blend is quite different, being 32.3% Merlot, 24.3% Cabernet Franc, 20.8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.4% Syrah and 10.2% Malbec.  At least I had the dominant Merlot component right.

Back then, the Matariki Quintology 2002 had just been released and now I had an opportunity to taste it again, alongside the newly released 2004. 

In June 2008, Matariki Quintology 2002 has a deep colour, more saturated than the 2004 with colour right to the edge.  On the nose it is savoury and brooding with cedar, marmite, herbs and hints of chocolate.  I thought it quite 'Bordeaux-like' with its fine tannin structure and silky texture.  Still very young yet at the same time integrated, it is vinous and savoury with spicy French oak, wine-macerated fruit, blackcurrant, cherry, chocolate, spice and even a suggestion of pepper.  It seems much younger than 6 years and has one heck of a life ahead of it.  The blend is 42% Merlot, 23.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 8.5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 22nd 2008

Eating Wine

On a lazy weekend Sunday earlier in the month, we went to the 'Art of Cheese', a little cafe and artisan cheese shop that has opened up in burgeoning Albany (along with what seems like a hundred other cafes). It's a sister to the 'Art of Cheese' cafe and shop at Puhoi, where the Puhoi and Bouton D'or branded cheeses are made.

It was Croute Valonnaise on the menu that caught my eye.   It said it was a Swiss version of Cheese on Toast. Bread is soaked in white wine, layered with juicy pears  and double smoked ham and covered with Puhoi Havarti and fresh tomatoes.  It was yum and a very tasty way to enjoy wine early in the morning without drinking it.

The flavours of wine and cheese cooked together like that released some memories of years ago in Switzerland, so this winter weekend, as I had quite a bit of left over wine from the aromatic tasting earlier in the week (scroll down to Jun 17th entry), I said to Neil - "What about a cheese fondue?".  He found the fondue set, tucked away at the back of the highest cupboard, where it had been hibernating for years and years. Yet it almost looked brand new.

We are being told to conserve power as the hydro lake levels are at an all time low and this table top cooking with a spirit burner worked towards that power saving. We could have had candles too.

fonduebookA classic cheese fondue recipe from my old Fondue and Tabletop Cookbook - although I used all the remnants of cheese in the refrigerator, as well as gruyere and havarti for more authentic flavour.  The fondue saucepan was rubbed with garlic and then about 200 ml of wine was added - a blend of a dry pinot gris and a dry viognier from the leftovers in the box. The 500 grams of cheese had been grated into a big pile and squeezed with the juice of half a lemon, as this is meant to help break down the cheese. It was added to the warmed wine, handful by handful, stirring all the time.   Eventually all the cheese had been added, but it was still a bit sloppy, so a tablespoon of cornflower was mixed with a little kirsch liquor (another relic found in the cupboard). Then another 100ml of wine was added, this time gewurztraminer, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.   Now it was looking good, the cheese had finally become one with the velvety liquid and we were ready to go.

tribianco.jpg (15002 bytes)The fondue is a classic match for unoaked or lightly oaked aromatics but if you can't make up your mind on what wine style of wine you want, what about a blend of three?  I totally recommend the Schubert Tribianco 2006, made from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Muller Thurgau from the Wairarapa in the lower North Island.  On first tasting the apple character of the Pinot Gris is most dominant - and this goes really well with the cheese, but soon the peachy flavours of the chardonnay start to show through. But it comes across as fairly neutral in its fruit flavours - it is, instead, a powerful wine with vinous complexity and body (14% alcohol), subtle oak and a slightly nutty mealy undercurrent. With its full-bodied, warming texture, it is a great food style.  

Interestingly I tasted this wine last September, before release, when it was a medley of exotic fruit flavours. Just goes to show what time in the bottle and a change in the seasons can do. It costs about $25 and is sealed with a Diam cork. Find out more from

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 20th 2008

Wine's iconic Tim Finn

Tim Finn is an iconic name in New Zealand but there are actually two Tim Finn icons. One is a music man and the other is a wine man. I've heard the musical Tim Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House) many times but I've actually met the wine Tim Finn, owner of Neudorf Wines several times. Most recently was Wednesday night when he was guest presenter at the First Glass Wednesday tasting.

Tim Finn photo by Sue CourtneyTim told the tasters that he was formerly an agricultural scientist at Ruakura in the Waikato, not too far from the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station. The scientists at Te Kauwhata basically only talked to the "newby" wine guys like Tim, because the established winemakers of the day didn't like to hear what the scientists had to say, which was "Stop putting water into your wine".

Tim had a fascination with Burgundy wines.  Nelson with its cool nights and warm days looked, on paper, that it could be a good place to grow those Burgundy styles. He found his sloping clay soils in the Moutere Hills near the little village of Neudorf, named for the Germans who first settled there. 

When the Finns first planted grapes in 1978, they experimented with grape varieties but soon found out that Nelson was too cool for some of them. But it proved to be ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and later Riesling.

Incidentally, the first Pinot Noir that Tim made was in 1988. The vines he made it from were sold to him as Gamay Beaujolais and that is the style of wine he made from the beginning. But once the vines were identified correctly as Pinot Noir, the Moutere Pinot Noir concept was born.

Neudorf Wines now has two sites, the original sloping clay soils in the Moutere Hills and river gravels on the flat at Brightwater, south of Richmond. They find the latter better suited for the production of Sauvignon Blanc.

Tim decided on Nelson, even thought it was more expensive than Marlborough was at the time. Marlborough land was cheaper, it had only been farmed for sheep, and as well it was close to transport, with Blenheim on State Highway One, and close proximity to the inter-island ferry. In the early days, all the Marlborough grapes were sent to wineries in Auckland for processing.

Nelson had a bigger city, a better lifestyle, and land that was productive for a large number of crops. Hence it remains a fairly small wine region in the overall New Zealand scene.

All of the wines we tasted, including two vintages of Moutere Riesling, two vintages of Moutere Chardonnay and the Moutere Pinot Noir are reviewed on my Wednesday Roundup page.  

Wine of the Tasting - Neudorf Moutere Riesling 2005
A heavenly scented Germanic style riesling with a little bit of age to take the edge off the racy acidity. Spicy, zesty and voluminous for the style - clean and viscous with perhaps just a hint of botrytis adding to the complexity together with baked apple, honey, lemon and lime. Fusel-like Germanic notes are to the fore and a typically slippery, wet potter's clay earthiness adds complexity throughout. Words other than delicious, amazing and spectacular simply escape me. It is absolute Riesling-heaven. My 'Wine of the Night'.  

I checked with Judy Finn for technical details and there is botrytis in the wine (well spotted Sue).  The grapes were hand harvested from low cropping vines in the Moutere Home Vineyard. The fruit was allowed an extended hang time and was harvested in excellent condition with a portion of Botrytis infection.  A long, cool wild yeast fermentation took place before the wine was stopped when a natural acid/sweetness balance was found. The wine has 30g/l residual sugar, 8.9g/l total acidity and a pH of 2.8. Technically there is 10.8% alcohol although the bottle states 11%. It is sealed with a screwcap and costs about $36.
Find out more from

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

New Zealand trophy winners at IWC

The London International Wine Challenge (IWC) has released its trophy results and not surprisingly there are a few New Zealand wines in the bag. It's not surprising because IWC dishes out regional trophies as well as 'best of variety' trophies. There are something like 90 trophies overall - imagine going to that awards dinner.

I earlier reported that New Zealand had won 22 gold medals (see Wine News 8th June). Now four of those wines have been declared trophy winners.

Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 bags four with the Central Otago Pinot Noir Trophy, the New Zealand Pinot Noir Trophy, the New Zealand Red Wine Trophy, and, most importantly of all, the International Pinot Noir Trophy - which means it was the most favoured Pinot Noir in the competition. An amazing feat and the second International Pinot Noir Trophy in a row for Central Otago because last year's winner was Bald Hills Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005.

I checked out the all of the gold medals awarded to Pinot Noir and it was a surprise to find that New Zealand has 10 golds, Australia just one (from Tasmania) and Burgundy only three, including Jean-Claude Boisset Chambolle-Musigny 2006, which won the Red Burgundy Trophy.

Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006, the winner of the Marlborough Pinot Noir Trophy, was also in the running for the overall Trophy.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was awarded with the New Zealand White Wine Trophy as well as the top honour of the important International Sauvignon Blanc Trophy. In earning the international trophy, it was the most favoured of gold medal winning contenders from other producers in New Zealand as well one from Western Australia, two from Chile, one from South Africa and five from the Loire Valley in France.

The fourth New Zealand wine to receive a Trophy was Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2005 from Hawkes Bay.  It was the winner of the New Zealand Syrah Trophy.

I'm not sure why there are no other regional or varietal trophies for New Zealand - for instance a Martinborough Pinot Noir Trophy (since there is a Marlborough Pinot Noir Trophy and a Central Otago Pinot Noir Trophy).  I don't understand the logic.

Full results can be found on the IWC website.

* John from the Wairarapa responds: "Totally support your comments regarding expanding the regional trophies at the IWC, however Martinborough is only a sub-region, lets make it Wairarapa."

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

Obikwa Cheapie

I hardly ever buy wine from the supermarket. I want to support my fine wine store. Besides, it always seems to be the same wine brands that are specialled at the supermarket and when they are not on special, they are priced higher than what my fine wine store would sell them for anyway. So if I buy from the supermarket there has to be a really good reason. Like when Lindauer bubbly is on special for $7.99 a bottle, as it has been at the New World supermarkets just before Christmas the last couple of years. Or when something like the Obikwa Pinotage 2007 from Western Cape in South Africa leaps out of the supermarket flyer with a price of just $5.99 a bottle.

Now I'm a BIG Pinotage fan, as anyone who has been following my writings for a while will know. And it is not often South African Pinotage crosses my way. Definitely not an excitingly packaged, screwcapped-closed bottle, like Obikwa. So I just had to try it. But Neil was sent out to do the 'dirty work' (i.e. buy the bottle).

obikwaIn the glass Obikwa Pinotage 2007 is a deep ruby crimson colour, fine textured in appearance and almost opaque. The aromas are sweet and fruitcakey with a layering of creamy vanilla oak - and best of all, the aromas are juicy and clean. The juiciness is so there in the palate, juicy cherry, plum and raspberry fruit with a slightly tart edge, a spicy complexion and robust rounded tannins. There's an earthy undercurrent and smoky oak, yet, as expected from the price point, the finish is sweet. However, the foil for this sweetness is food and it was a beef casserole with a smoky BBQ sauce that did the trick. There was a touch of chilli heat in the sauce and the smoky BBQ flavours worked perfectly as a food match for this wine.

Now, if you were tasting this wine blind and given the option of Pinotage, Merlot or Shiraz as the grape variety, I'm betting very few people would pick Pinotage. The sweet vanillin oak that tastes like American oak and the clean, spicy, juicy profile would have you heading in the direction of one of the other two.

Obikwa is the name of the earliest people from the Cape region. The ostrich, which is stylised on the label, was of vital importance to their existence.  They used the ostrich eggs were to to carry and store water.

Obikwa Pinotage 2007 has 13.5% alcohol and while it is Wine of South Africa, the distributor's address on the back label is the same as the owners of the Foodtown / Woolworths / Countdown supermarkets. So I'm guessing it is exclusive to the owner's stores. It appears the usual retail is $7.99, at $5.99 on special, it's more than a steal.

Beef Casserole in Smoky BBQ Sauce
Take 4 cross cut blade steaks and cut each steak in two or three pieces, across the vein. Coat pieces in seasoned flour and brown on all sides in a little oil. Remove to a casserole dish. Pour the contents of a can of Smoky BBQ Tomatoes over the meat. Deglaze pan with a little water, pour that into the can to pick up all the goodies stuck to the bottom and the sides,give it a swirl then add to the casserole too. Lastly add two potatoes, peeled and cut into moderately sized chunks. Cover and cook slowly (160° C) for at least 2.5 hours. The longer the cooking, the more tender the meat. Serve with your favourite winter green. 

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

Confusing my P's and V's

I'm glad I'm not playing wine options this year given my inability to identify the correct regions for most of the Pinot Noirs in a tasting last year. Now it's my inability to correctly identify 10 white wines, which comprised four Viognier, four Pinot Gris and two Gewurztraminers.  Wines were tasted 'blind' of course.

pvg-bottles.jpg (71220 bytes)

Now you would think that identifying the Gewurztraminers would be easy, but there was only one wine in the lineup where the heady floral scents of Gewurztraminer leapt out of the glass. I narrowed it down to two choices for the second wine on scent alone, although tasting the wines quickly confirmed the right one. The obvious one was Waimea Estate Nelson Gewurztraminer 2007 while the one with such 'delicate' aromatics was Mystery Creek Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2007.

So I'm left with 8 wines, three of which I am absolutely sure are Viognier and the others - well they all smelt and tasted like Pinot Gris to me. The one that had a light Gewurz tinge to the scent was put on the PG side, and that turned out to be correct. It was later revealed to be Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Gris 2007. Another distinctive Pinot Gris, full of apple and pear flavours, was Spinyback Nelson Pinot Gris 2007.

Two wines were quite sweet, and as I've never had such a sweet Viognier (except for late harvest style) they had to be Pinot Gris too. But one turned out to be Viognier with 14 grams per litre of residual sugar. Strange, but true? Both the sweeter styled wines were from Waimea Estate - being Waimea Estate Bolitho SV Pinot Gris 2007 (this week's Wine of the Week) and Waimea Nelson Viognier 2007. The latter had some chenin blanc-like attributes with sweet, luscious, honeyed flavours and baked apple to the fore. I actually like the wine very much - but not Viognier as I know it.

The correctly identified Viogniers had obvious oak, soft acidity, gorgeous texture and varietally correct nut and apricot flavours. One was Mills Reef Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007, which was full of nutty sweet oak, bright peachy fruit and marginally Chardonnay-like, though far too fragrant for that. The other was Vidal East Coast Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007. The latter was a big wine with a spicy zest, apple and apricot fruit, spicy honey and nuts with oak adding to the complexity.

The incorrectly identified Viognier was actually Michael Ramon Matakana Pinot Gris 2007. This richly textured wine had a delicately bright perfume with apricot, apple, fresh fig, honeysuckle and even a touch of five spice. It had the aroma, body and spice that I associate with Viognier. A very nice Pinot Gris.

The last wine standing was Vidal Reserve Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007. With its steely apple and lime scents and dominant apple flavours, it didn't immediately scream Viognier. However, the 'slippery' texture of this wine was amazing. It totally shows what the texture of Viognier is like on its own and why it does what it does with Shiraz. This wine is all about texture and vinosity rather than fruit.

So there you go. Could you do better?

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

Yalumba's new 'Single Site' Shirazes

When Jane Ferrari, the travelling ambassador for Yalumba Wines, visited New Zealand this past week, she made her annual visit to First Glass where she pulled in the biggest crowd seen there in the last five years, according to the shop owner, Kingsley Wood.

One of the highlights of the tasting was four of the five new Single Site wines. These are more than 'single vineyard wines'. They are from a specific single site within each single vineyard, just a few rows. The Single Site concept has been developed to show the diversity of the Barossa Valley but the wines are rather limited production. Just 120 dozen of each wine was made. Sixty dozen is staying in Australia for that market and the other sixty dozen for the rest of the world. New Zealand is lucky in that it actually gets about five dozen of each wine.

We tasted one of the two Grenaches and all three Shirazes and it's the latter I'm going to talk about here. Although the bottles look scarily similar, there are distinct differences in each wine. So if you taste a wine and like it, be sure to hold the bottle in the light to check the vineyard details, written in silver on dark grey, on the front label to ensure you are buying the right one.

yalumbass.jpg (95714 bytes)

Yalumba Single Site Fromm Vineyard Lyndoch Barossa Shiraz 2005
From old Block 1 planted in 1935 on its own roots, the north-south running rows have a soil profile that is red brown earth at the northern end and changes to a heavy textured soil in the south. This is a brooding number in comparison to the other two yet in some ways it is the most sophisticated too. It opens up beautifully in the glass to reveal oak sweetness, opulent berry and cherry fruit, well-proportioned pepper and oak spice, firm solid tannins, a sumptuous juicy finish and amazing length. After some deliberation, this was my personal favourite on the night.

Yalumba Single Site Swingbridge Vineyard Craneford  Eden Valley Shiraz 2005
Profoundly minty, which makes you think a cool climate style, and in some respects it is because it evidently comes from a more elevated and, according to Jane, 'wrong facing' site where vines planted in the 1920's are on their own roots on sandy soils over clay. It's a super succulent wine full of red berry fruits with a peppery profile, a touch of black liquorice, a deep, earthy, smoky savoury depth and brightness to the finish.

Yalumba Single Site Hahn Farm Vineyard Light Pass  Barossa Shiraz 2005
From the 'Barossa Valley floor', this shiraz is sourced from the oldest patch on the Hahn vineyard, known as Block D, which was planted in 1970 on its own roots. It is aromatically spicy with bright florals and a hint of mint, the spicy brightness carrying through to the deep sumptuous berry-fruited and exotically spicy palate. A youthful wine with firm tannins, tobacco / herbal nuances to the finish and a fruit richness to the aftertaste.

All the wines have 14.5% alcohol and are closed with a natural cork. They have similar French oak regimes as well. Expect to pay from NZ$57 to NZ$64.

All of the notes from the Jane Ferrari tasting are now on my Wednesday Roundup page.   Click here to read them.

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

We knew it was going to be big, but did anyone predict THIS big

The figures from the 2008 New Zealand grape harvest have finally been crushed and it's a whopper, far in excess of the early predictions of between 225,000 and 245,000 tonnes of grapes. The total for 2008 is a massive 285,000 tonnes of grapes, up 39 per cent on last year's harvest and almost 4 times the harvest total of ten years ago.

Marlborough alone accounted for 195,000 tonnes of grapes (up 61 per cent), more than the country-wide total in 2006. Marlborough, with its infatuation in Sauvignon Blanc, is principally responsible for the increase in production.  Other varieties to see significant increases were Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Chardonnay recorded a decrease.

Other regional increases included Central Otago up 177 per cent, Wairarapa up 111 per cent, Waipara up 304 per cent, Canterbury up 304 per cent and Nelson up 35 per cent.  In most cases these changes reflect a rebound to target levels after weather reduced crops in 2007. However, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions were down 8 percent and 18 percent respectively, due to a combination of frosts and cooler weather at flowering.

For the official press release, go to

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 12th 2008

Compare and contrast two Main Divide Pinot Noirs

photo by Sue CourtneyThese two Main Divide pinot noir wines look almost identical and if they were on a wine shop shelf, you really would have to be observant to spot the difference. But they are different because the wine in the left bottle is made from Marlborough grapes while wine in the right bottle is made from Canterbury grapes. I thought it would be an an interesting exercise to taste them together and compare and contrast.

Main Divide Tipinui Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 is slightly deeper and brighter in its youthful pink colour. The aroma is savoury and raspberryish with a herbal overtone and an earthy depth. It is a meaty wine to the taste, deep and earthy with a touch of marmite, underlying acidity and red fruit notes. It is the most funky of the two with its savoury disposition, thicker tannins and zesty acid brightness carrying the finish with a lingering aftertaste that is flushed with herb-infused maraschino.

Main Divide Te Hau Selection Waipara Pinot Noir 2006 is not as vividly pink because it doesn't have the purple hue gives the brightness to the former. On the nose it offers rich, succulent, sweet-fruited cherry and chocolate aromas and the olfactory sweetness carries through to the palate, which is bright and cherryish with underlying spiced orange acidity, mulled wine spices, an earthy depth and an herbal intrigue with a hint of anise on the lingering finish. Rounded and silky in its tannin structure and lasting in its sweet/savoury flavour this is the more softer, succulent and generous wine of the two.

Photo by Sue CourtneyThere are definitely differences between the two but in many respects they are very similar wines. They are distinctly New Zealand pinot noir and if you were tasting them apart, I reckon you really would only have a 50/50 chance of getting the region right.

Made by the talented winemaking team at Pegasus Bay, with the Waipara wine from regionally sourced fruit other than from their own Waipara vineyard, both wines were made in what appears to be exactly the same way. Natural fermentation was followed by 3-4 weeks maceration then the wine was separated from the marc (grapes yeasts, skins, etc) and barrel aged in French oak for 18 months with spontaneous malolactic the following summer. Both wines have 14% alcohol by volume and are sealed with a screwcap. They cost about $33 each.  Find out more from

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

Travels with Wine

I recently signed on as the New Zealand contributor for a new blog called "Travels with Wine".  My first post was back in April and I've finally finished my second post, which was posted today (or yesterday in USA time). Anyway, I hope to post every couple of weeks, perhaps more often, with tales of my vinous explorations of New Zealand's wine country.  I'll also post the links for any new episodes here.

Right now you can check out my first two posts

It's exciting too becuase I'm playing around with WordPress, so I'm getting a feel for 'proper' blogging software too.

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

Warming Winter Whites

snow.jpg (56973 bytes)With the southerly onslaught this weekend bringing snow to many parts of the country and my niece in Christchurch, close to the city, sending photos of the snow on the fields outside her University dorm, there is no doubt that winter is really here. There is no snow in Auckland, of course, although the chill in the wind makes it feel like it is not too far away.

So it is time to reflect on wines to drink this winter.

One thing I really hate is the ubiquitous phrase 'warming winter reds'. You see it in the advertising as if to say, it is only red wines that should be drunk in the cold season. But that is not the case at all, especially when you consider it is the alcohol in the wine that sends the warming message to the brain, not the colour.

There are plenty of alcohol-packed warming winter whites to choose from too. Just check the alcohol level on the label. You'll be hard pressed to find a viognier under 14% and most of the gewurztraminers are headily packed with alcohol too. Pinot gris is heading that way and then there's comforting chardonnay - a winner at any time of the year.

I've chosen a chardonnay as this week's Wine of the Week.  Tasted over three days, as was necessary to find a food match that worked, it is the Pegasus Bay Waipara Chardonnay 2006, just one of a whole raft of top-notch wines from Pegasus Bay. In fact I can't think of one wine under the Pegasus Bay label that doesn't pass muster.  Click here for the WOTW review.

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

BYOW could be the answer

Auckland restaurants are feeling the pinch now that the ever-increasing prices have combined with the onset on winter, according to an article in this weekend's New Zealand Herald online.

In a saturated restaurant market some are offering incentives, including free drinks, to get the punters into their establishment. Just recently Harbourside Restaurant on the waterfront packed in the customers when then offered their 1988 menu at 1988 prices - I wonder if the 1988 prices applied to the wine too? I doubt it.

The price of wine in restaurants in one of the reasons Neil and I personally don't eat out as regularly as we used to. That, and the cost of getting to the restaurant including parking if taking the car.

But mostly it is the wine. It is the lack of adventurism in wine lists and the exorbitant mark ups that put us off.

I wrote about restaurants and wine lists in FoodService Magazine in October 2004 and stated that restaurants should be more choosey in what they list. As an example I used the Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - for a long time a darling of the restaurant wine listers. But not long after the wine started to be distributed by Allied Domecq it was suddenly being discounted in retail all over the place. It was down to $14.95 a bottle in the supermarket (even cheaper these days) yet it was still being listed in restaurants at $38 to $42 a bottle. And when diners see a supermarket 'loss leader' being listed for almost 3 times the supermarket price, they see 'rip off'.

If you are reading this blog you are undoubtably a wine lover with a good sense of the wines you like and probably a good sense of the current retail prices. So I'm guessing if you also have a cellar, you would love to take one or more of your well-cellared wines out to dinner at a restaurant too.

But there are so few BYOW restaurants that serve the type of cuisine you would want to drink your 1994 Stonyridge Larose, your 1998 Esk Valley The Terraces or your 2002 Kumeu River Mate's Chardonnay with.

So perhaps restaurants wanting to attract more customers in these hard times should offer incentives to wine lovers by allowing free BYOW on bottled treasures and a very small corkage fee on more recent acquisitions. If I was able to take my own wine to the classy restaurants that I want to go to, I'd be dining out more often, that is for sure.

PS - If you know of any good BYOW restaurants in New Zealand, please email me. Let me know the corkage charge and whether that charge is per person or per bottle. Once I have enough replies, I will compile a list and publish it, right here on

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

Magic Mushrooms and Merlot

We foraged for mushrooms in the paddock and Neil went down into the bush, particularly looking for Wood Ear, a rubbery jelly-like fungus that has a strong flavour and, incidentally, which New Zealand used to dry and export to Asia. He found lots of different types of fungus and mushrooms and took photographs to help the identification. Wood Ear was nowhere to be found, but he came across a cluster of orange-yellow mushrooms, the biggest measuring about 20cm (8 inches) across. So after we went out and picked up some books on mushrooms and fungi from the library earlier today, he went back into the bush and picked the biggest one of the cluster for further identification.

gymnopilus mushroomCould it be the highly prized 'Caesar's Mushroom'? Probably not, as the books said this one is only found wild in southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere and other identification criteria didn't add up.

We studied the books and used the Internet to confirm distinguishing traits and after discounting the Death Cap, the Golden Russula, the Sticky Bun and the Honey Mushroom, we came to the conclusion it was the hallucinogenic Gymnopilus Spectabilis, commonly called 'Laughing Jim' because supposedly it makes people laugh. Most books have a warning against eating it but I have to reflect that if we were younger, and more stupidly carefree, whether we would have bitten the bullet and cooked up an experimental feast. However, we decided that a glass of wine and a mushroom risotto with store-bought mushrooms was a safer bet.

The wine was Ashwood Grove Merlot 1998 from Victoria, Australia. That was a dream vintage for the West Island folks and this wine is really hanging in there. It's got a nice touch of mintiness, as would be expected from the 'Garden State', the spicy oak is well integrated and the supple tannins give the wine structure and backbone. It's full-bodied and succulent with plenty of Merlot character in the plum and cherry fruitcake flavours with a lifted spicy savouriness to the lingering finish. It was also rather pleasing with a slice of Leicester cheese topped with a dried Central Otago cherry.

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

Matariki is today

Every culture has traditional celebrations and the culture of the New Zealand Maori is no different.  The celebration of Matariki, or the Maori New Year, starts on the day the new moon rises after the constellation Matariki (aka Pleiades) reappears in the morning sky.  Today is that day.  

Throughout New Zealand, Matariki festivals, some lasting a month long, are taking place. It's a celebration and reflection of the harvest just completed and the start of preparations for the new growing season that lies ahead.

Reflecting on the 2008 grape harvest just completed, another record vintage has been achieved.  It's not surprising really, given the continued growth of vineyard plantings throughout the country (particularly in Marlborough and Central Otago) and a return to more 'normal' yields. As for the quality, there will be wines that will be simply spectacular thanks to a long hot dry summer and pristine conditions for grape picking. There are winemakers all over the country on cloud and talking of a "dream season". But there are also hush-hush stories of what could have been. I am sure the words, "if only," will be a comment lament, especially where downpours in the midst of the harvest put a damper on proceedings.  The proof of the quality - or not - will be in the bottles when the wines are finally released. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 4th 2008

Wine with Dinner: Saint Clair Marlborough Chardonnay 2007

Looking for a food dish to complement a particular chardonnay that had strong citrus flavours and a nutty mealy undercurrent, I decided on pan-fried white fish in an almond, butter and citrus sauce.

But I need some chardonnay (another chardonnay) to add to the sauce so I opened the Saint Clair Marlborough Chardonnay 2007.

This is a bright juicy wine, a little bit mealy and radiating freshness with citrus and delicately honeyed oak building to a rounded and pleasing butterscotch finish. Oak is nicely integrated. It is definitely there and not over the top. It is a nice, easy drinking, well-made wine with a ring of quality.

The fish was John Dory, which was seasoned and pan-fried in butter.

In another small pan, two handfuls of flaked almonds were browned in butter and cooked until the pieces of nuts started to brown. The juice of an orange (which measured four tablespoons) and equal quantities of the chardonnay were added and cooked to reduce by half. Just before serving, four knobs of butter (about 1 teaspoon-sized each) of butter were whisked into the sauce to thicken it. The fish was plated and the sauce poured over the top.

I thought the meal was successful but the wine I had planned to match the meal with (more on this later) simply didn't work. So that was put aside and we drank the Saint Clair Marlborough Chardonnay 2007, which turned out to be a perfect match, instead.  The wine has 13% alcohol, it is sealed with a screwcap and full retail is about NZ$21. It should be widely available. Find out more from

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

WOTW: Babich The Patriach 2004

Babich name their flagship red wine 'The Patriarch' in honour of Josip Babich, the founder of Babich Wines, who began selling the wine he had made in 1916.  Like many Croatian immigrants who came to New Zealand in the early 1900's, Josip came to work in the gum fields in New Zealand's Far North. He was just 14 years old when he arrived in New Zealand in 1910 but by the time he was 16, he had already planted a vineyard. patriarch.jpg (13986 bytes) In 1919 Josip and his brothers moved south to a property in the Auckland suburb of Henderson that they had purchased a few years earlier. Amazingly, this is where the headquarters of Babich Wines is still located.  Originally the grapes were sourced only from their Auckland vineyards but in 1977 they expanded to Gisborne. Josip Babich died in 1983 and didn't get to the company's investment in Hawkes' Bay and the huge investment and growth in Marlborough. The first Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was produced in 1991.

In 1996, on the 80th anniversary of Babich Wines, the family introduced 'The Patriarch' label in honour of Josip Babich.  It is a top wine that understandably is only made in the very best years.  Now the 2004 vintage of 'The Patriarch' has been released and it's an absolute beauty. It's a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec from the company's Hawkes Bay vineyards. For a wine company that has been in operation for over 90 years, this wine is a fitting tribute to their founder.  Check out my Wine of the Week review.

Current Blog
Previous Entries
Following Entries
Complete Blog Archive home

copyright Sue Courtney 2008