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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: August 2008
Aug 31st: Wine New Zealand 2008 - Day One
Aug 29th:'s Top Ten Producers of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and blends
Aug 27th:'s Top Ten Gewurztraminer/ Pinot Gris Producers
Aug 26th:'s Top Ten Syrah Producers
Aug 25th:'s Top Ten Pinot Noir Producers
Aug 24th: News interruption
Aug 23rd:'s Top Ten Riesling Producers
Aug 20th:'s Top Ten Chardonnay Producers
Aug 19th:'s Top Ten Sauvignon Blanc Producers
Aug 18th: Ten Years of
Aug 17th: A Few August Tipples
Aug 13th: Birthday wine liberated a decade later.
Aug 12th: Chardonnay excellence from Sacred Hill continues
Aug 11th: Pork with Five-Spice, Dried Apples, Kumara and Pinot Gris
Aug 9th: A few early birds from 2008
Aug 8th: First Glass Wine Olympics
Aug 6th: Elspeth at the Narrow Table
Aug 5th: WOTW: Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctors Creek Pinot Noir 2007
Aug 4th: Travels with Wine Episode 5 - Karikari Estate
Aug 3rd: Bledisloe Cup of Pinot Noir
Aug 2nd: Moroccan spices and Gewurztraminer
Older Entries

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

Wine New Zealand 2008 - Day One

This afternoon I popped into Wine New Zealand for a couple of hours of wine tasting. Wine New Zealand is the biggest showing of New Zealand wines under one roof, that roof being the roof of Hall One at the ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane in Auckland. It was a busy hall with people mulling around every stand - but not so busy that it was unpleasurable. I counted 124 brands in the pre-show brochure, where I had marked 19 brands that I had not heard of or seen before. I decided, like last year, the newcomers would be my focus. Or that was the plan.

I walked into the hall and turned left and immediately saw Christine Kernohan of Gladstone Vineyards and 12,000 Miles wines in the Wairarapa and just had to say "hello".  Loved the 12,000 Miles Pinot Noir 2007 - a gorgeous wine showing the savouriness the region is known for, with generous fruit in the sweet and tart red fruit spectrum.  

Mount Dottrel, a fairly newish Central Otago producer, is already undergoing a slight change in direction. They have renamed their vineyard in Parkburn to 'Mitre Rocks Vineyard' and have a premium, barrel selected Pinot Noir under this label. Mitre Rocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 is a big oaky style, quite rich and creamy with grippy tannins at this stage of its life. The Mount Dottrel brand will stay.

Owhanake Bay Wines is on Waiheke Island, just to the east of Matiatia where the passenger ferries dock. The Owhanake Bay Anchorage Syrah 2007 ($42) is medium-bodied in style and tastes quite dry and savoury with pepper, blackberry and a touch of cherry. The Owhanake Bay Melina Flora Pinot Gris 2007 ($25) is a blend of two grapes because the former was originally thought to be  Pinot Gris. There's the spicy flourish of the Flora, with sweetish, spicy raisiny flavours and an apple-like undercurrent.

Jim Jerram Ostler from the Waitaki Valley is not a new name to me - I've actually visited this southern South Island vineyard. But as it was their first time appearance at Wine New Zealand, how could I pass the stand.
I retasted the Ostler Vineyard Audrey's Pinot Gris 2006 ($30) that I thought had sulphides when I tasted it last year. "We didn't find any sulphides," said Jim (pictured right) - the 'we' being him and brother-in-law winemaker Jeff Sinnott. Nor did I on this retasting. The wine has become gorgeously rich and while it has an earthy undercurrent, it is picking up some honeyed complexities too.
New to the range is the Ostler 'Blue House Vines' Waitaki Riesling 2008 ($23) - a stunning wine with fabulous clean, pure, lemon/lime aromatics. Very crisp, high acid and cleansing to the taste with just a nuance of salinity on the finish - it will cut through everything. Lovely, cool, refreshing, beautiful - it has 11.3% alc, 7.3g/L residual sugar and a whopping 9.2g/L of total acidity.
The Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir 2006 ($45) provided another exciting taste experience and brought back memories of tasting the 2004 vintage with Jim and his wife Ann, with scones and jam, at their home in the Waitaki in 2006. We carried on to the vineyard where we saw the grapes for this wine on the vine. Despite the stressful vintage (heavy rain fell for a couple of weeks after our visit), the wine is rich and savoury, dry and spicy, with a very defined linear earthiness, a firm tannin structure and an interesting fruit profile that oscillates between cherry and fruit of the forest - a deep and evolving wine to sip and savour. This was my top Pinot Noir of the day with six stars out of five.

David and Maired Hart from Gisborne were newcomers to Wine New Zealand and I partook in a sample of their Stone Bridge Gewurztraminer Gisborne 2007. This is delicately aromatic with a gingery zestiness on entry to the palate but becomes full and rich with a nice touch of sweetness and rose water nuances embellishing the finish. A 4 star wine.

Richard Guthrey is the owner of Remarkable Wines -and with a name like that he is obviously Central Otago based. He makes his own wine in consultation with Debra Cruickshank at his Bannockburn Winery. However the only wine he had on show today was Remarkable Wines Pinot Noir 2006 made from Gibbston Valley fruit. I liked this dry savoury rendition with a perfumed plummy undercurrent. It is medium-bodied, spicy and long and being a little more Burgundian than many of the fruity C.O. styles, it will be a good wine.

Tarras Vineyards in Central Otago had three wines but my favourite was the Tarras 'The Canyon' Pinot Noir 2007, from Chinaman's Terrace in Bendigo, Central Otago. This is concentrated and powerful - heading towards opulent, with savoury notes coming through and a bright, spicy finish. 

David Dew, River Farm River Farm Wines from Marlborough is new but owner David Dew was one of Montana Wines' original eight growers in the late 1970's. It took him until now to produce his first Sauvignon Blanc. River Farms Ben Morven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($22) is a stunning debut. There's 5% barrel ferment wild yeast component, which accounts for the whiff of smoke I detected in the initial nosing. Not so obvious, however in the passionfruit-filled palate with a touch of apple and an underlying savouriness. Grainy and fresh, this is a serious wine and made to go with food. "Who is your winemaker," I asked. "Brian Bicknell, Mahi Wines ex Seresin" came the answer. Then it all made sense.

Salvare from Hawkes Bay has enlisted Elise Montgomery as winemaker. They have an extensive range but I only tried the Salvare Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 ($25). This has a distinctly peppery nose and is full of pepper in the palate. It is medium to full bodied with smooth yet firm tannins and a sweet fruit finish.  Interesting artwork on the labels too.

This was the last wine I tasted before the Sensational Syrah and Hot Reds Seminar that I attended, and which I will report on later.

I came out of the seminar and refreshed my palate with the striking pure and crisp Gibbston Valley Le Fou Riesling 2007. Cenral Otago, Bendigo fruit, fabulous aromatics though just a little sweeter than expected. I have a sample bottle to try will make sure it is a little chilled.

Then I just had time to talk to Matt King and Marian Seyb from Lone Goat in Canterbury. Their brand name is inspired by their Cashmere goat, Ella. "We only have one goat," says Marian. After chatting for a while and finding out some history behind the place, I decided to taste the Rieslings.
Long Goat stickieLone Goat Canterbury Riesling 2008 is crisp and clean with a slight spritz to the texture. Lime rich and varietal, it is just off dry with high acidity to balance the 15 g/L residual sugar sweetness.
Lone Goat Late Harvest Riesling 2007 is full of apricot, honey and raisin and quite sweet with 72g/l residual sugar and just 8% alcohol.
Last taste of the day was Lone Goat Botrytis Selection Canterbury 2007 with 254g/l residual sugar and again 8% alcohol This wine is every bit as good as I remember. Yes, I've had it before, because Lone Goat is another brand that's undergone transformation. I discovered this wine earlier this year when it was Canterbury Vineyards Botrytised Muller Thurgau. Not only that, the vineyard is the original Giesen Vineyard in Burnham School Road at Burnham, south of Christchurch. Matt worked as a winemaker for Giesen back in that owner's days and learnt his Riesling skills then. Funny how things fall into place. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 29th 2008's Top Ten Producers of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and blends

Why isn't there a simple name for New Zealand wines made from Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and blends of these grapes?  They are often called 'Bordeaux blends' but how can they be - surely a 'Bordeaux blend' has to actually come from Bordeaux? Perhaps 'Bordeaux-inspired' would be a better description for wines made in New Zealand from any, some or all of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The wines produced here are Bordeaux-inspired in more than one way because many of the growers who planted these classic grape varieties were indeed inspired by the red wines of Bordeaux and some producers even claim that the wines they make emulate the greatest from St Emillion, Paulliac or Margaux.

Also, sometimes a wine made in New Zealand from the classic Bordeaux grapes may have another grape added for extra spice and sustenance, a grape like Syrah that would be a rogue in Bordeaux.

I remember the Hawkes Bay winegrowers trying to introduce the term 'Hawkes Bay blend', which works for Hawkes Bay wines but doesn't work for wines made from these grapes from other parts of New Zealand that use the classical Bordeaux grapes - places like Matakana, Waiheke Island, Clevedon, Martinborough and Waipara, where there are stellar Bordeaux-inspired wines made. And they don't even have to be 'blends' because there are also some delicious 100% varietal wines from each of Bordeaux's Famous Five.

So who are my Top Ten New Zealand producers of wines made from classical Bordeaux varieties (CS, CF, Merlot, Malbec and PV) with perhaps the addition of Syrah. Again I am encompassing the whole of the last ten years and concentrate on producers whose wines I have tasted more than once in a blue moon.

No. 1: Villa Maria Estate - As mentioned in previous top tens, the Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley and now Thornbury brands belong to the one parent company, Villa Maria Estate. A dominating force on the New Zealand wine scene, endless wine show successes and quality throughout the range from Villa Maria's Private Bin to Vidal 'Joseph Soler' Cabernet Sauvignon - but if I had to pick a favourite of these brands it would definitely be Esk Valley. What Gordon Russell does to produce the The Terraces, the Reserve and the Black Label wines really pleases my palate - an outstanding performance over the last ten years.

No. 2: Mills Reef - this is the only producer to consistently produce single varietals from each of the 'Famous Five' - so I was saddened to hear from winemaker Tim Preston earlier this month that the 100% Cabernet Franc and possibly the Malbec will be no more. The wines excel in both the Elspeth and the often under $20 Reserve labels. Available and affordable in the USA too, I have no hesitation in recommending this producer when asked.

No. 3: Stonyridge - Larose is the iconic wine from Waiheke Island - also the second label Luna Negra - perhaps the most profound 100% Malbec I've ever tasted. I also remember once tasting the five individual components of the Larose blend - a veritable eye-opening, palate pleasing experience.

No. 4: Te Mata - the iconic Coleraine - what can one say? Plus the almost as classy Awatea and the under-$20 Woodthorpe estate blend.

No. 5: Newton Forrest - love these wines for their power, succulence and drinkability - and extreme cellar-worthiness too.

No. 6: Craggy Range - these wines are getting better and better. I've only tasted three vintages of the prestige Cabernet Sauvignon, 'The Quarry', but when I have, I am wowed - The Quarry is a profound wine with huge cellaring potential. The Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2005 was my Red Wine Buy of the Year last year, while Craggy Range Sophia 2005 showed excellence above all others except newcomer Puriri Hills Reserve 2004.

No. 7: Sacred Hill - I'm a real fan of the Brokenstone Merlot and more recently the Helmsman Cabernet Merlot as well. Also in the family is the Gunn Estate Woolshed - a wine I've really enjoyed when I tasted it over the years. I could possibly slip Ti Point from Matakana in here too as part of the Sared Hill family, as Ti Point's winemaker Tracy Haslam is the wife of Sacred Hill owner David Mason. She ships the fruit from Matakana to Sacred Hill in Hawkes Bay to make her Ti Point wines.

No. 8: Unison - so sad to hear that Anna-Barbara and Bruce Helliwell sold this label earlier this year, but the wines produced under their ownership are some of the finest from Hawkes Bay - especially the Unison Selection.

No. 9: Pegasus Bay - Oh Maestro - play it again please. The sole South Island representative in this Top Ten, Maestro Merlot Malbec is the top Bordeaux-inpsried red but the Pegasus bay Merlot Cabernet is mighty fine too.

No. 10: Trinity Hill - The Homage 'The Gimblett' 2004, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, was my top Bordeaux-insired wine in 2006 and the debut 2002 was very exciting too. There is also the Gimblett Gravels Black label straight Cabernet Sauvignon, straight Merlot and Cabernet merlot blends that offer consistent drinking.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 27th 2008's Top Ten Gewurztraminer/ Pinot Gris Producers

If I was offered an all-expenses paid trip to any wine region in the world, I would seriously consider Alsace. The war-torn history, the visual beauty, the people, the food and of course the wines. This is the aromatic wine capital and although Riesling is produced here, it would be hard to argue that any one region makes better Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Thus the Alsace region is an inspiration for many New Zealand wine producers of wines from these two grapes.

And so this list is intermingled, as the producers that do well with Gewurztraminer also do well with Pinot Gris. There are exceptions, of course, like Vinoptima in Gisborne, a wine producer that focuses solely on Gewurztraminer - and arguably the producer of the most refined Gewurztraminer in New Zealand. Is Vinoptima on my ten year list? Well seeing as I've only ever tasted two vintages of Nick Nobilo's wine - how could it be? Yet I really want Vinoptima to be there.

So with much soul searching, here is the list I've arrived at.

No. 1: Dry River - Outstanding wines- Top Gewurztraminer. Top Pinot Gris. A cult producer but definitely my Number One. There's no need to say much more.

No. 2: Lawson Dry Hills - This has been a long time favourite Gewurztraminer producer and more recently rich, powerful, Alsace-inspired Pinot Gris. One of Marlborough's oldest producers but despite competition and change of winemakers, still right at the top for me.

No. 3: Johanneshof - winemakers Warwick Foley and Edel Everling produce these aromatic wines in a fashion that I absolutely adore. I was only introduced to the Pinot Gris when we visited in 2004 but since then it's been worth seeking out - both the Dry and the Medium. Then there's the always exquisite Gewurztraminer too. Very memorable wines.

No. 4: Stonecroft - perfectionist producer of delicate yet intensely powerful Gewurztraminer wines. The Old Vines Gewurztraminer is particularly special. They don't make Pinot Gris.

No. 5: Villa Maria - I feel a little remiss that Villa Maria did not make my Riesling list - but they are definitely on this list with their luscious Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris. Multi regional sites add complexity, though I do have a penchant for the Single Vineyard Ihumatao Gewurztraminer from Auckland - and picked a few grapes from there one vintage too. Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris 2007 was outstanding and one of my Buys of the Year last year as well as being a safe and affordable pick off a restaurant wine list when we didn't go BYO. And that's the lower level wine in the quality pyramid because there are those delightful Cellar Selection, Reserve and Single Vineyard Pinot Gris wines as well.

No. 6: Spy Valley - The Spy Valley Gewurztraminer has been a long time favourite wine for simply drinking - because it is consistent in quality and style. The introduction of the Envoy range took the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris to another level.

No. 7: Waimea Estate - Did you see that my recent Wine of the Week, the Waimea Estate Bolitho Pinot Gris 2007, won the trophy for Best Pinot Gris at the Bragato Wine Awards? Superb wine. This winery has been hovering in and out of my vision over the years. Love the Gewurztraminer too.

No. 8: Seifried - Like the others, Pinot Gris has arrived later - but the opulent Winemaker's Selection Gewurztraminer has always pressed my button.

No. 9: - Vinoptima. Despite producing only Gewurztraminer and the baby of all these producers, it has definitely made the list.

No. 10: - Te Whare Ra - Marlborough oldest boutique winery - started by Alan and Joyce Hogan in 1979 and bought by the Smiths on the Hogan's' retirement. The Smith's contracted Californian John Levenburg and later Johanneshof's Warwick Foley to continue Te Whare Ra's tradition of producing outstanding Gewurztraminer wines. Tasted in 2005, the 1998 Te Whare Ra Duke of Marlborough Gewurztraminer of the Smith/Levenberg era was simply sublime. Now with new owners, Te Whare Ra has slipped off my radar (or I've slipped off theirs) but I tasted a rather crisp and vibrant 2007 Sauvignon Blanc at the Marlborough Wine Weekend. I haven't tasted the Gewurztraminer for some years (last recorded was vintage 2004) but reading their website they are still producing the wine from the original block of vines. So considering this list encompasses the best of the last 10 yearst, they just stay on the list, for now.

So what about other producers like Framingham, Waipara Hills and Montana that produce both varieties and Pinot Gris specialists Bilancia and Herzog? They'd definitely be there if I went up to 15 and obviously Bilancia and Herzog would be in the Top 10 Pinot Gris if I split the lists. I'm excited about the future of the Waipara Hills aromatics, now they have the services of former Spy Valley winemaker (and before that, former Framingham winemaker), Ant MacKenzie. However I think the Montana Gisborne Gewurztraminers show more variability than I'm comfortable with, at times.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 26th 2008's Top Ten Syrah Producers

There has been a surge of Syrah plantings the last ten years, perhaps because of the endorsement by international critics, and thus there are a number of excellent 'newer' producers. But if you have been following these Top Ten lists you will know they encompass the last 10 years.  It's also a list of producers rather than a list of labels, which makes it easier, in some respects, I guess. 

No. 1: Passage Rock (Waiheke) - the all encompassing Syrah experience - I've even helped to pick the grapes and taste the juice straight out the back of the crusher. They are wines that make my eyes open wide and my lips utter, 'Wow'.  Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2005 was my Wine of the Year in 2006.

No. 2: Trinity Hill (Hawkes Bay) - White Label, Black Label and the almighty Homage - an encompassing range of Syrah at an encompassing range of prices. Homage was my Wine of the Year last year.

No. 3: Dry River (Martinborough) - Every vintage this single production, single vineyard wine is crafted with passion and flare. The wine is labelled 'Lovat Vineyard' now and before that it was labelled 'Arapoff' - although the vineyard is exactly the same. The first release was in 1996.

No. 4: Bilancia (Hawkes Bay) - Meticulous attention to detail - and have you seen the vineyard - possibly the steepest and the most challenging to work on, in New Zealand. The 2002 vintage was my Syrah of the Year in 2005.

No. 5: Villa Maria / Vidal / Esk (Hawkes Bay) - I've grouped these together because they belong to the same parent company and they are pretty hard to separate anyway. But if I had to choose a single wine from the group over the years, it could quite possibly be one of the Vidal Soler Syrah's.

No. 6: Stonecroft (Hawkes Bay) - the catalyst for the revival of the Syrah in Hawkes Bay - and more recently the introduction of the approachable Serine Syrah, it just has to be on the list.

No. 7: Te Mata (Hawkes Bay) - Outstanding Bullnose Syrah, which has been produced since 1992 and more recently the Syrah Viognier blend - although I never really liked the blend at first. But  Bullnose is pretty hard to resist and cellars exceptionally well too, as a 'mini' vertical tasting of some vintages (including the 1992), in October 2005, proved.

No. 8: Fromm Winery (Marlborough) - "In Marlborough Syrah is a marginal variety yet it surprises us time and time again," said winemaker Hatsch Kalberer. A vertical of Fromm Syrahs in 2006 showed just how surprising and fabulous they are.

No. 9: Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay) - It would be hard to leave this producer of the list even though the Syrah, these days, rarely passes my lips. But after tasting the Craggy Range Block 14 2001, my  Syrah of the Year in 2004, I went out and bought all I could lay my hands on - I ended up with a mere two bottles, I think. And of course there is the rare and iconic Le Sol.

No. 10=: Okahu Estate (Northland) - yes I can see the eyebrows raised- but don't forget the monumental Kaz Shiraz 1998 and the follow-on Kaz Shiraz 2000. Now Okahu Estate is on the national radar again with a gold medal from the Bragato Wine Awards last week. This is a label I've followed and enjoyed over the years. Well done Monty and Jen.  

No. 10=: Mills Reef (Hawkes Bay) - I just can't leave this producer off the list. It's one I always recommend to my overseas friends - both the Reserve (made in 2004, 2005 and now again in 2007) and the sublime Elspeth, of which I have tasting notes back to 2001.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 25th 2008's Top Ten Pinot Noir Producers

"Who is going to be in your Pinot Noir list," asks Neil over dinner as we sip on a tasty Pinot Gris.
"It's a worry," I reply.

The problem is that there are so many Pinot Noir producers - the growth has been phenomenal. In Central Otago alone the number of pinot noir producers has increased from 26 to 95 in the last ten years. And many of these are growers who will tell Pinot Noir is made in the vineyard, but you have to consider the winemaker too. Winemakers like Dean Shaw at the Central Otago Wine Company and Carol Bunn, a producer of Champion Pinot Noir at Akarua before joining the contract facility, VinPro.

With so many good wines and producers to choose from, I heed advice from Maria von Trapp who would most likely say, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start".

Again this list reflects wines I've regularly tasted over the last 10 years - I have to go with what I know.

No. 1: Ata Rangi (Martinborough)- it evidently all started with the 'gumboot clone' - cuttings purported to be from the famed Domain de la Romanée Conti. The silky Pinot Noirs have simply stunned over the years, the second label 'Crimson' too.

No. 2: Dry River (Martinborough)- I was on the mail order for this wine when Neil McCallum was making his journeys to Auckland and holding the mail order tastings in his mother's home. What a steep little road that was. He still makes the journey to Auckland twice a year to let mail order customers taste his wares.

No. 3: Pegasus Bay (Waipara)- rock star winemakers Matthew and Lynette craft the Prima Donna, the estate Pegasus Bay and the second label Main Divide that just keeps getting better and better.

No. 4: Felton Road (Central Otago) - We bought a case of the 1997, then the only Felton Rd Pinot Noir wine. The 'Blocks' came along a couple of years later and I still buy when I can. Last year we treated ourselves to a bottle (but just a single bottle) of the exquisite Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2006.

No. 5: Gibbston Valley (Central Otago) - another sentimental favourite from the estate to the illustrious reserves - and the memorable wine tasting with Grant Taylor, when he was winemaker, in the cave.

No. 6: Villa Maria (Marlborough) - the premier producer from this region, perhaps, from the Private Bin through to the Cellar Selection, the Reserves and the Single Vineyards. Vidal and Thornbury come under the Villa Maria umbrella too. The Villa Maria Private Bin can be amazing - for example the 2005 PB was my 'Buy of the Year'.

No. 7: Rippon (Wanaka) - another sentimental favourite - we opened a bottle of the 1989 for my graduation in September 1999 and the 1991, tasted in January 2000, was noted as 'awesome' and although the wines went through a lull in the late 1990's and early 2000's, it was the return of Nick Mills in 2003 that took the Rippon Pinot Noir to an exceptional level.

No. 8: Neudorf (Nelson) - memories of old church pews come to mind when I think of the Home Block Pinot Noir 2001 tasted with Tim and Judy Finn at their home back in November 2002. I found old church pews again in the Home Block 2004. So from this producer you have the Moutere, the Home Block (or Home Vineyard I think it's called now), the new Tom's Block and the more affordable Nelson Pinot Noir too.

No. 9: Escarpment (Martinborough) - Larry McKenna helped to put Martinborough on the map when he was winemaker for Martinbroough Vineyards from 1986 until putting the wine in barrel in 1999. Then Escarpment became his baby. Using grower fruit for the first few years, the culmination of the efforts was the release of Kupe by Escarpment 2003. There's a new Insight Series with Pinot Noirs from three new sites in Te Muna Road, released earlier this year. From the 2006 vintage, they are stunning I'm sure but I've never seen them, not one bottle.

No. 10: Cloudy Bay (Marlborough) - forget about the cherry and chocolate - this is a gorgeous Burgundian-styled Pinot Noir - and as the vines get older, the wine gets more profound.

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

News interruption

With the Bragato Wine Award results announced at an Awards Dinner in Christchurch on Saturday night, it seems appropriate to interrupt the 'Ten Years of lists with the trophy winning wines. After all, I've listed the results in one form or another over the years. It is important to point out that these awards recognise the grapegrowing process and celebrate viticultural excellence and so the wines have to be from grapes grown on vineyards owned, operated and managed by the entrant. Thus the vineyard and grower's name (in brackets) appears with each winning wine. And unlike the commercial wine competitions, the wines do not have to be commercially available. 

Olssens Jackson Barry Pinot Noir 2007
Olssen’s Garden Vineyard – Central Otago (John Olssen)

Palliser Estate Chardonnay 2007
Palliser Vineyard – Martinborough (Allan Johnson)

Silverton Road Merlot Cabernet Malbec 2007
Silverton Road Vineyard – Hawke’s Bay (Bruce Leppard)

Askerne Noble Semillon 2006
Askerne Vineyard – Hawke’s Bay (Kathryn and John Loughlin)

Seifried Riesling 2007
Seifried Estate - Nelson (Hermann Seifried)

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer 2007
Lone Gum Vineyard - Marlborough (Chris and Judy Simmonds)

Waimea Bolitho SV Pinot Gris 2007
TH & RM Bolitho Vineyard – Nelson (Trevor Bolitho)

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 6 ‘Oh’ Block Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Buckland Grove Vineyard - Marlborough (Martin and Gail Goyne)

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Mere Road Vineyard – Hawke’s Bay (Paddy and Tim Preston)

Saint Clair Rapaura Reserve Merlot 2006
Rapaura Vineyard – Marlborough (Neal and Judy Ibbotson)

Newton Forrest Syrah 2006
Cornerstone Vineyard – Hawke’s Bay (Bob Newton)

Beach House Montepulciano 2007
The Track Vineyard – Hawke’s Bay (Chris Harrison)

A total of 857 wines were entered this year, a 20 percent increase on last year, with judging based on three categories: colour and clarity; aroma and bouquet; and taste and general impression. The final medal tally consisted of 546 medals; 39 gold, 149 silver and 358 bronze - an increase almost 100 medals compared with last year’s competition. All of the gold, silver and bronze medal winning wines can be found on the website.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 23rd 2008's Top Ten Riesling producers

I am fast coming to the conclusion that certain New Zealand Rieslings take my fancy for their consistency over the years and these are the ones I make a beeline to if they are there for the taking. Can I rank these wines? Possibly, if I really had to, but it is a very hard call. So this is the current order - you may or may not agree.

From Waipara - Pegasus Bay: The recent addition of Pegasus Bay Dry Riesling to the range has introduced another outstanding taste experience from Pegasus Bay. That and the 'classic' made in a 'medium' style and the mouthwatering more spatlese styled Aria. Never say No. Pegasus Bay - many times the producer of the Riesling of the Year. There's also the second label, Main Divide to consider here too - and those gorgeous Melness Rieslings of the past- same winemakers too.

From Central Otago - Felton Road: I just fell in love with these wines when I visited Central Otago in 1999 and I wish I could see more of them now. There are three in the range - dry, medium and the spatlese-styled Block 1- all always superb with that beautifully balanced high acidity and verve.

From Marlborough - Fromm Winery: Rieslings that are almost as nervy as those from Central Otago - shimmering wines and a range of styles too. But what about that Fromm Riesling Auslese 2006 that was my Riesling of the Year last year. So unbelievably good. Pour me more.

From Marlborough - Forrest Estate: The more I see of these wines, the more I am impressed. Without a doubt the best dry 'Dry Riesling' in New Zealand - dry in this case is more Australian in style, whereas the 'Dry' from Pegasus Bay is German inspired - wines that are half a world apart.

And the best of the rest - all five star wines

From Martinborough - Dry River: Made with cellaring in mind.
From Nelson - Neudorf: The name says it all
From Central Otago - Mt Difficulty particularly the Target Gully. Gosh, I love the earthy Rippon Riesling too.
From Waipara - Muddy Water: The vines are getting some age in them now and producing some quite awesome wines. A range of sweetness levels too.
From Waipara - Camshorn: - the label to watch.
From Auckland - Don't be stupid - they don't grow Riesling in Auckland. So I'll go for a wine made in Auckland, although from Marlborough fruit - and that producer is West Brook.

And the winery to watch - Crater Rim.

Now if this was a summary of the first five years, I'd have to include Giesen Canterbury Riesling but the last profoundly outstanding Geisen Canterbury Riesling I had was from vintage 2003. The vineyard is long gone too.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 20th 2008's Top Ten Chardonnay producers

No. 1: Kumeu River
Every year this producer says, "this is our best vintage yet', and while it's a cliché, I really think, with Kumeu River, what they say is totally true.
A few years ago I was asked to contribute to 'Best: A New Zealand Compendium', it was Kumeu River Mate's Vineyard Chardonnay that I chose for my selection. I rated it Number One then, I rate it Number One now. That as well as Kumeu River Estate and the new Single Vineyard wines. Class, class, class.
No. 2: Villa Maria - A ravishing range of Cellar Selection, Reserve and Single Vineyard Chardonnays from Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough. Incidentally it is the Ihuamatao Chardonnay from Auckland that is my current favourite. Parochial, from an Aucklander maybe, but the proof is in the tasting.
No. 3: Sacred Hill - an encompassing Hawkes Bay range with the best being the single vineyard Sacred Hill Rifleman's. Included with Sacred Hill are the Gunn Estate wines - part of the same parent company. Yummy drinking all the time. 
No. 4: - Clearview Estate, particularly the Reserve. Hawkes Bay fruit. A big oaky number. Yum, yum, yum.
No. 5: - Marsden Estate - from the Far North, there is consistency from this producer and with the Black Rocks made in the drinking style I like, it has to be in the list.
No. 6: - Te Mata Estate - a huge reputation but wines released a little early these days. They need at last another year to develop into the style I like to drink. Yes, age does become this wine.
No. 7: - Neudorf - the reputation runs away with Neudorf Moutere too. Out of my drinking pathways for a while (can't afford it and I'm no longer on winery samples list), but thanks to a winemaker tasting at First Glass, earlier this year, it's back on my radar again. Fantastic cellaring wines. The Neudorf Nelson reeks of quality too.
No. 8: - Ata Rangi - particularly the Craighall
No. 9
: - Cloudy Bay - exceptional efforts over the years.
No. 10=: Dog Point Wines - just getting better and better every year. The 2006 is in the running for this year's Chardonnay of the Year.
No. 10=
: Church Road - a newcomer in the Chardonnay list - but the 'Reserve' shows magnificent efforts the last three years.

There are other strong contenders, Saint Clair for example and lots of one off wonders as well. But I have to ask what has happened to Spencer Hill? I rated this producer in my Top Five a while back but the wines have been off my radar the last few years.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Aug 19th 2008's Top Ten Sauvignon Blanc producers

It was a Sauvignon Blanc that made me fall in love with New Zealand wine and those who read my writings will know it was the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1988, because I've mentioned it many times. But when I consider the ten year lifespan (1998-2008) of, how does Cloudy Bay pan out? Is this company one of my Top Ten Sauvignon Blanc producers?

Based on its drinkability over time, I' definitely have to say, "Yes". There was that catalyst Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1998 that we drank last year, there was a 'vertical' of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc put on by Kiwi Wine Fan Club (KWFC) founder Craig Thomson, which I wrote about in an article entitled, 'A Legend of Our Times' for Then a little more recently the Cloudy Bay Retrospective hosted by Cloudy Bay themselves in 2004. Yes over the last ten years, Cloudy Bay has wowed at times. 

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1999, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000 and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002 all were applauded as respective Sauvignon Blancs of the Year.  But some of the more recent wines have been a little disappointing on release and really need a lot more time. There has been a change of staff to consider too.  So Cloudy Bay makes my Top Ten list, but where?

* * * * * * * * * *

In considering the best Sauvignon Blancs over the last 10 years, I have to think of consistency - and so the honour of the Number One Sauvignon Blanc producer goes to Saint Clair Wines.

Both Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2001 and Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002 were respective Sauvignon Blancs of the Year and both these wines were selected for the two Six of the Best Challenges that Angela Lloyd from South Africa and I arranged between the New Zealand and South African Sauvignon Blanc wines.  Saint Clair Wairau Reserve won back to back - wowing the palates of both the New Zealand and South African judging teams. Unfortunately because of logistics in transporting wine between South Africa and New Zealand, we didn't continue the Six of the Best Challenge, but if we had, the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve would have been right up there, I'm sure.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 both made my Top 10 in 2004, then in 2005, the Pioneer Block wines made their debut.  It just made it so difficult to choose and although the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2005 was in the running for Sauvignon Blanc of the Year, it was eclipsed by the all round drinkability and value for money of the estate wine. The following year it was Saint Clair Pioneer Block 6 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 that most delighted my palate and of the 2007 wines, it was the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 '43 Degrees' Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 that got the nod.  I just can't get enough of this producer.   Will the excellence continue into my next ten years of Sauvignon Blanc drinking.  I certainly hope so.

So who else makes the Top Ten Sauvignon Blanc producers from the last 10 years.  Here is the list.

No. 1 Saint Clair - every Sauvignon Blanc in the Saint Clair label is class.
No. 2 Cloudy Bay  - including the barrel-fermented Te Koko
No. 3 Dog Point Wines including, or perhaps especially, the Section 94.
No. 4 Astrolabe - exciting wine and Single Vineyard labels too
No. 5 Palliser Estate - the only non-Marlborough producer in the Top Ten and includes the Pencarrow label.
No. 6 Matua Valley - including Shingle Peak.  Matua Valley is New Zealand's first Sauvignon Blanc producer and both Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2003 and Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2006 have featured in my Wines of the Year, while the Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was a Wine of the Week.
No. 7 Mahi/Seresin - While acknowledging winemaker Brian Bicknell, formerly at Seresin and now with his own label Mahi, I also acknowledge the continuation of Seresin's top class Sauvignon Blancs, despite Brian Bicknell's departure. Seresin has a smidgen of Semillon in the blend, which enhances its aging ability.  
No. 8 Clayridge - Up and coming - a label to watch, especially the Excalibur, a gorgeous alternative style.
No. 9 Villa Maria - in the past there have been many Reserve and Single Vineyard wines and the Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc was a long time favourite.  This producer is down the list as I haven't tasted more than the Private Bin or the Cellar Selection the last couple of years, though I am sure the Reserve and Single Vineyard wines are still made.
No. 10 Montana - also making some very exciting Single Vineyard wines and now as well as the Brancott 'B', there are the Terroir Series selections too. Again, right down the list due to not tasting many of this brand's wines the last couple of years.

A special mention to Sacred Hill's Sauvage  - my favourite Sauvignon Blanc out of Hawkes Bay and lastly a note about the Blackenbrook Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - a joint Sauvignon Blanc of the Year with the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 2007 last year. The 2007 was the first vintage I've tasted from Blackenbrook and a one vintage wine, no matter how good it is, hasn't come into consideration of the my Top Ten of the last ten years.

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

Ten Years of

Today is the 10th anniversary of my domain name and although I had an Internet presence prior to then, hosted on the free hosting platform, Geocities, the purchase of the domain name started a new era for my online presence.   It's an easy anniversary to remember because the annual renewal bill always reminds me of the date.

I remember when I bought my domain name, it was easier to obtain a Dot Com domain name than a Dot Co Dot NZ domain name because of the way the top-level domains were structured back then. The NZ domains were operated out of Waikato University and the rigmarole, to go through, to register a domain name, seemed like it would take days and days of work. A Dot Com was so easier to register, and cheaper too.

On the Geocities platform, my online 'handle' was 'winetaster', but the domain name was already taken and the obvious Wine of the Web, was taken too (although Wine on the Web's Andrew Jones just last month decide to retire). So I decided on after reading an advertisement in a paper exclaiming a Wine of the Week. I thought the name would be an incentive to update the website at least once weekly. And only once or twice in the last 10 years have I missed a weekly wine review.

I was very ambitious when I started, thinking I could write a plethora of articles each week, but it really did fall into the 'too hard' basket, especially as I was holding down a full time job as well as studying for a Bachelor of Science degree, part time. I was also editing a newsletter for the North Shore Wine and Food Society and writing a wine column for the Rodney Times. So some of the weekly features changed to monthly, then yearly and, well, some of them haven't been updated for years. But there is always a Wine of the Week.

Looking back to early 1998, when I found my first home on the Internet at Geocities, there were only a couple of New Zealand wine websites and of those that were there then, mine is the only one still going.

Two that come to mind are, at that time a bulletin board of sorts operated by Mark Robins out of Canada, I think. New Zealand Winegrowers, or the Wine Institute as it was at that time, purchased the domain from the holder and it later became the 'official' industry website.

Wellington writer Brownwen Evans also had a site called, I think,, but she let that go when she headed overseas before the turn of the century.

My site continued to be hosted on the Geocities platform, with domain name redirection, until April 2001, which was after Yahoo had bought Geocities but about the time they started plastering the pages with non-relevant advertisements. I'm now serving pages from my second host here in New Zealand.

Even though I didn't launch the website in its current form until November, for the rest of the week I'm looking back at the best of 10 years of

And my first official 'Wine of the Week' - Kumeu River Pinot Gris 1998. History repeats.

Kumeu River Wines have recently released their second Pinot Gris. A tiny quantity (150 litres) was produced in 1997 but in 1998, where conditions were near perfect in the Auckland region, a larger quantity of grapes was harvested from Mr White's vineyard on Waitakere Road, allowing for Kumeu River's first commercial release of this variety.

KR PG 98This resulting wine is a little beauty. While still a baby, it has the seductiveness of an Alsacian cousin. Hints of pear on the nose and lots of pear in the palate with a touch of oiliness and a lovely sweet finish. The wine has a nice 'feel' (texture) and while it is bone dry, the low acidity gives the perception of sweetness.

Michael Brajkovich, who became New Zealand's first "Master of Wine" in 1989, made this wine using small stainless steel casks, without malolactic or oak influence.

I think the wine will be fabulous drinking during our Southern Hemisphere summer for those who can't wait at least 6 months to see the complexities develop. However, I expect this wine to become highly sought after as the word gets around and the limited stocks at the winery sell out. Vineyard price $21 a bottle.

Kumeu River Wines is one of the New Zealand's most successful family wineries. Their recently expanded winery with its new "Kumeu Clay" colour scheme and huge cedar doors, stands proudly as a gateway to the Kumeu region just north of Auckland. The family team, led by Managing Director Melba Brajkovich with her three sons, winemaker Michael, viticuluralist Milan and marketer Paul, source their grapes solely from the Kumeu region, which they believe is a quality area for grape growing and wine production.

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

A Few August Tipples

Was intrigued by the label designs of Wairarapa winemaker Jane Cooper's 'Alexia' brand. The labels are a tribute to her grandmother and with the swirls and paisley patterns, it's back to the sixties, for sure. There are two wines in the package so far - a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir, both predominantly from Opaki in the Wairarapa region, with some Martinborough fruit in the savvie as well.

Alexia swirlsAlexia by Jane Cooper Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($20) was my favourite. It is aromatic and grassy with a soft muskiness to the scent then in the palate it is spicy, zesty and warm with some oak, perhaps, adding softness and possibly a smidgen of wild ferment. Nice primary flavours of gooseberry, tomato and red capsicum combine with the fullness of peach and apple with well-balanced underlying acidity and tropical fruit, including passionfruit, on the bright, fresh, tasty, finish with a flourish of summer herbs. Just 12% alcohol - and a screwcap closure, of course.

Alexia by Jane Cooper Pinot Noir 2006 ($25) is a much lighter style than has been the norm for 2006 from most regions. Translucent orange-red in the halogen light, it is savoury and earthy on the nose and just a little sweet on entry to the palate with a chocolatey undercurrent, smooth silky tannins but a slightly 'hard', dry and slightly stalky finish. It has 13% alcohol and a screwcap.

I much preferred Wild South Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 ($29). Generous from the outset, this pinot is smoky and savoury with a ripe cherry overlay to the almost floral scent. Juicy and spicy to the taste, along with spiced cherries there's a mid-palate hint of tart red fruit - poached tamarillo perhaps - and it softens on the earthy, mushroomy finish with a flourish of raspberry underpinning the savoury oak. Nuances of chocolate emerge with time. Quite earthy and dark with a touch of grip to the tannins, Neil thought it a little spritzy to start - but I think what he is picking up on is the underlying acidity. Nothing that worried me, for sure. And particularly enjoyable with Moroccan-spiced lamb shoulder chop casserole. 13.5% alc. Screwcap.

I was impressed when I tasted Highrocks Vineyard Hawkes Bay Syrah Merlot 2006 at the Hot Red Hawkes Bay Roadshow that visited Auckland in May 2007. Now, 15 months later, it's even better. Deep dark red black in colour and so peppery on the nose - there is no doubt that the wine is Syrah - but in a blind options guessing game, I would have been hard pressed to pick Merlot as well. But the Merlot is perhaps what adds the extra dimension of juiciness, the mid palate softness and the deep cherry and plum fruit to balance the meaty savouriness of the Syrah. A blend of 71% Syrah and 29% Merlot, aged in French and American oak barriques, this wine ahs 13% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a Diam cork. The verdict - "ultra enjoyable" - and a winner at a family dinner on 'Super Saturday' night. As noted in my blog entry of 11 May 2007, the winemaking team is former Unison Vineyard owners, Bruce and Anna-Barbara Heliwell. About $25.

Also tasted earlier in the week, or perhaps last weekend, was Framingham Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006. This is such a contrast to the 2007, which I tasted last month and found so oily and overpowering it was retired to the tasting box until I had suitable food to drink it with. Thank goodness for the preserving qualities of screwcaps on young white wines. It preserved it well and age did become it. But back to the 2006, of course a year older and powerfully scented but lighter and more appealing, right from the outset, with its pretty taste. The perfume is perfect for the varietal make up of the wine with orange water, lemon honey, canned lychee and five-spice with a waft of purple violets and aromatic-infused oils. Yet there is a delicacy and dancing lightness to the pretty, floral and sweetly exotic taste with a superb slippery texture and the lasting flavours lingers gently after the wine has been swallowed. An excellent accompaniment to slow cooked belly of pork where the skin has been rubbed with aromatics spices, soy, honey and citrus. 13% alc. $29.95.

Last but not least, Soljans Fusion NV - a non vintage sparkling Muscat made from Gisborne grapes. Clear and bright with tiny bubbles in the glass, the wine has a sweet grapey aroma with a floral musky overtone to the scent and a fruit sweetness to the fizzy flavour with a touch of apple too. Soft, fruity, low in alcohol and when served ice cold it is foamy fun and easy to enjoy as an aperitif - but let the icy edge come off the wine and the sweetness makes it a little too much like lemonade fizz. I thought my Mum might like it, as she can't drink anything too acid any more, but I was surprised when she screwed her face up in protest at the sweetness. Well, it does have 80 grams of residual sugar, so it is not surprising that she found it so sweet. However, the rest of the family enjoyed a glass before dinner. A deserving silver medal winner at the 2008 Muscats du Monde. About $17.

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

Birthday wine liberated a decade later

Just over ten years ago, when planning a milestone birthday party for my mother, she dropped the bombshell that she didn't want a party because she didn't want anyone to know how old she was. Her naughty children went ahead with birthday preparations anyway and I bought a 6-pack of Ransom Wines Gumfield Chardonnay 1997 from Matakana. I loved this wine on release and because it was unoaked, I thought it would appeal to many of Mum's relations and friends.

But Mum got her way and the party didn't happen so the wines were put in her storage space under a window seat. A few were opened now and then but when Mum sold the family home in 2003, I took the remaining couple of bottles.

Recently Neil opened the last one standing and we found the wine to be holding up amazingly well. It's a clear, bright yellow gold with a touch of 24-carat to the hue. Quite sweet and nutty on the nose - yes, very nutty, sweet nuts like brazils, hazels and almonds - and a hint of butter caramel.  The nutty character carries through to the beautifully rounded full-bodied palate that has richness and texture and a touch of caramel too. Apricot-like fruit emerges and lingers on the bright, rounded and creamy finish with a touch of lime zest telling you the acidity is there to keep it along this steady path.

Ransom Wines Gumfield Chardonnay 1997 is an amazing eleven-year-old wine. It was good then, and it is still good now. The label states 13% alcohol and the wine is sealed with a cork that is stamped with 'Mahurangi River Vineyard' which was the original name for Ransom Wines.

Today, a decade on, it was the next milestone birthday for my mother. We children didn't plan a party this time. Instead we invited a few of her loyal friends around and simply had a glass of bubbles to toast her grand achievement of age. We didn't toast her for being another year older. We toasted her for becoming a classic. It made me think, like a vintage car or a fine old wine, a mother is very special and deserves to be treasured more and more with time.

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

Chardonnay excellence from Sacred Hill continues

When I think of my favourite New Zealand Chardonnays, one that stands out is Sacred Hill Rifleman's Chardonnay from the inland, elevated Rifleman's Terraces Vineyard in the Upper Dartmoor Valley in Hawkes Bay.  A very special wine from a very special location, which you can read about in this Wine of the Week review.  But now this premium wine has a sibling from the same vineyard. 

label photographed by SC for www.wineoftheweek.comIt is the Sacred Hill 'The Wine Thief Series' Rifleman's Terraces Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007.  Hand picked fruit was whole cluster pressed and fermented in new and one year old French oak barriques with battonage (lees stirring) and partial malolactic fermentation with a total of 12 months in oak. If you are a fan of the Sacred Hill Rifleman's or the sister brand Gunn Estate Skeetfield Chardonnay, as I am, then you will love this new Wine Thief Series wine, as I do.  Skilful use of the smoky French oak tantalises sweetly from the outset while the smoky, savoury, nutty, mealy flavours are embossed with grilled peach, ripe fig and a crisp citrussy backbone that underpins the smooth creaminess with a touch of caramel cream toffee emerging as the flavours linger for ages. Full-bodied and rich, this impressive wine has 14% alcohol by volume, it is sealed with a screwcap and the RRP is $27 - about half the price of the premium Rifleman's - and ready to drink already.

It's a fabulous partner to Sacred Hill 'The Wine Thief Series' Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - see this Wine of the Week review from last month.

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

Pork with Five-Spice, Dried Apples, Kumara and Pinot Gris

This week's Wine of the Week, the gorgeous Gibbston Valley Central Otago Dulcinee Pinot Gris 2007, conjured up flavours of apples, citrus and delicate spices.  It would be the perfect opportunity to use the Central Otago dried apples that I purchased with the dried cherries and dried apricots last week (see Blog - Aug 2nd, below). The butcher had some plump, fresh, pork loin chops - not the pale washed out pork that I so often see. This was tender-looking, pink, fresh New Zealand pork and had been cut beautifully thick, too.   I remembered a recipe that Mum used to make with pork and kumara  - it was always a yum combination, so I decided to combine that with the pork and apple. I just love the way purple-skinned, pale-fleshed New Zealand kumara sweetens up as it cooks. And I used leek, now in season, in place of onions.

So the list of ingredients for two people is ...

Two large pork loin chops (preferably)
I tbsp butter
1 heaped teaspoon five-spice powder
1 small leek, sliced
1 New Zealand purple kumara, cubed
A dozen pieces of dried apple
1 cup lightly oaked, citrussy chardonnay - or you could use pinot gris 
salt and pepper for additional seasoning

Pork with leeks, dried apple and kumaraMelt the butter in a pan and sizzle the pork chops on one side to seal and lightly brown.
Generously sprinkle the top side of the chops with the five spice powder, to cover.
Turn chops and brown on the spiced side.
Transfer to an oven proof dish spice side up.
Saute the sliced leeks in the pan drippings until just starting to soften.
Add the kumara and apples and shake or stir to coat.
Season with salt and pepper and then place over the top of the chops.
Deglaze pan with the wine and pour the liquid over the chops and vegetables. 
Cover ( I used silver paper) and bake in a low to moderate oven - about 160-170 degrees C, for about 75 to 90 minutes - longer if necessary. Leg chops will need more liquid and longer cooking - do not let the pork get dry. Pork should be juicy, gorgeous and pull-apart tender and the skin and fat on the chops should have soften, lightly caramelise and ever so slightly jelled.

Do not thicken drippings  - instead serve the tasty spiced jus over accompanying mashed potatoes and green beans.

This meal was perfect with Dulcinee.  Now I'm going have to try this recipe again with pork belly, which will cook for on a lower temperature and for longer still.

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

A few early birds from 2008

Tasted some 2008 vintage wines this week - not samples sent to me, I might add, but samples nevertheless. Only one really impressed me and that wine was Eradus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from the Awatere Valley and a sign, perhaps, that it is the return of the armpit. Yes, this wine was incredibly armpitty, like the wines were a couple of years ago. Together with powerful fruit flavours, a touch of oiliness to the texture and a long pungent finish, it is a very exciting wine. I'm tipping it will feature in gold medal lists later in the year. This is the third vintage from Eradus, and it is every bit as impressive as the first. Check out - although you may find a 'website under construction' notice, as I did.

Not so exciting were the inaugural releases from the new winery, Yealands. There were two sauvignon blancs and what I believe is the 'entry level' wine, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2008, was green and vegetal upfront with beans, peas, capsicum and some lime connotations. It seem quite diluted for sauvignon blanc and finished with unbalanced sweetness. However they have a 'showcase' sauvignon blanc, which will be released later in the year. There was also a pinot gris, which I thought quite phenolic and a riesling that I can't really remember. This winery had its official opening in Marlborough yesterday so the reviews from the invited critics will be out soon. I'll be interested in what they have to say. Check out

Mount Riley Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 was also on the samples table. It was tempting on the nose and quite enticing on the front of the palate with classic pear-like scents and flavours but again phenolic on the finish and just a little bitter. Details at

It's confirmation that the difficult vintage conditions, especially in Marlborough in 2008, are going to produce probably more variability than ever before, in the new release wines. 

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

First Glass Wine Olympics

It is the 8th day of the 8th month of the 8th year of this century - the luckiest day in the Chinese Calendar and the day they have chosen to open their country's hosted Beijing Olympics. New superstars will be crowned as they win gold, silver and bronze in their respective events while sports stars of the past will retire with a hard luck story. Back here, in New Zealand, we had our own little 'Wine Olympics' at the First Glass tasting on Wednesday night. Four different varieties, three wines in each event and a public vote for the gold, silver and bronze placing's.

It was pretty clear cut in the International Reds where the Coto de Hayas Fagus 2006 from Campo de Borja in Spain broke a record for preferred wine. Similarly with the Shiraz event where the bargain priced Kingston Estate Shiraz 2006, just $13.99, took out the gold. But it would have been an unlikely gold medal winner if people had seen the label - they would have then voted with their eyes rather than their palate preference. I couldn't understand why they didn't see the finer qualities of the runner up on the day.

The Chardonnay event was close with the Seifried Barrel Ferment Chardonnay 2006 heading off the Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2007 by little more than a screwcap.

But the Riesling event was even closer- well I thought it was from where I was sitting. All three wines were definitely of wine competition gold medal quality but so stylistically different in their make up. So it was drinking preference on the night that determined the Olympic gold, silver and bronze medal placing and the winning wine was chosen by taste .FG Riesling Olympic contenders

It was a sweet German that stole everyone's palate's on the day - Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Riesling Spatlese 2005 from the glorious vintage year in the Mosel although it could almost have been disqualified as no-one would have picked it as a Spatlese. It seemed so much sweeter. "We were going to put this in the Wine Options but thought it wasn't representative of the typical Spatlese style," said Kingsley, later.

The Charles Wiffen Marlborough Riesling 2006, which I have to admit I thought was Australian, took out the silver medal placing and the much revered Pegasus Bay Riesling 2007 - which was a classic rendition of the Pegasus Bay style, had to settle with bronze.

All of the notes are now posted to my Wednesday Roundup page - Click here.

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

Elspeth at the Narrow Table

I've decided to cut down on the number of 'wine writer tastings', especially when they are held in the city or the other side of the city, as most of them are.  It's because of the exorbitant car park prices, the distance from parking to the venue and the rising cost of petrol. Besides, I hate coming out of a tasting into rush hour traffic. But when the invitation to the Mills Reef Elspeth One 2005 launch luncheon came and I saw it was at the new darling restaurant of the moment, The Narrow Table in the sleepy North Shore suburb of Mairangi Bay, it was stupid to refuse.

Guests were served a glass of Mills Reef Elspeth Chardonnay 2006 on arrival.  It's made in what they say is the classic Elspeth style but with less malolactic than in the past.  It's quite deep bright gold in colour with sweet yeast and peachy notes together with smoky oak on the nose and a little bit salty and savoury in the palate with quite dominant oak at this stage of its life, peach-like fruit and a creamy finish. Full, dry and sophisticated, I liked the wine for a one glass treat but I did not like the food match, which was Smoked Eel in Crisp Batter with Horseradish and Soused Cucumber.  It was far too salty for me and also, I thought, for the wine.

Pot au Feu of HareFor the entree course of Pot-Au Feu of Hare, the Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2006 was a fine accompaniment. Blackberry red in colour with brooding aromas in the big glass - it was tight, peppery and spicy with a lush creamy undercurrent, ripe juicy mulberry and blackberry, a balanced grind of pepper and aromatic spices together with a dry mocha note and a smoky, herb-infused earthy finish. The food was wonderfully light and aromatic despite looking like a stew, which of course it was. The beautifully cooked and pull-apart tender hare was in a sweet aromatic sauce that had been infused with blackcurrant, and the parmesan cheese in a filo parcel was a surprise.

elspeth05.jpg (21616 bytes)The catalyst for the event, the Mills Reef Elspeth One 2005, followed. This year, for the first time, syrah is the dominant variety and constitutes 40 % of the blend with approximately 15% each of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and malbec.  From the oldest part of the Gimblett Gravels vineyard where vines that are thinned to just one bunch per shoot, each varietal component spent 12 months in a selection of new and older French oak barrels before blending of the 'best barrels' with a further six months in oak before bottling.  The wine is a deep red black with a crimson hue.  It is quite cedary on the nose but the fruit is sweet and vibrant in the palate. There's a Bordeaux-like earthy, savoury almost leathery undercurrent that makes its presence felt mid palate and the lifted finish is long and sweet. The wine was decanted, which help the tannins to evolve and the finish lasted for ages with the taste lingering pleasantly in the mouth while I was having a conversation.

Venison and beetrootThe Elspeth One food match was Venison 'En Crèpinette', Warm Beetroot Salad, Sticky Chestnuts and French Goat's Cheese. The 'crèpinette' was spinach and the beetroot was infused with star anise (nice) while the micro greens made for a very attractive presentation. I liked the venison and the beetroot with Elspeth One but the texture of the goats cheese was distracting.

A vintage port served with perfectly ripened Brie was the finale.  The port was a deep dark red colour and sweet smelling with subtle liquorice and woody notes.  The winey sweetness carried through to the warm, fortifying, nutty palate which was smooth with a seemingly dry finish.

All the wines are available through the Mills Reef website - Note that the Elspeth One has jumped up considerably in price.  Previous vintages were just $40 a bottle but it now costs about $70. This brings it in line with similar prestige wines - it really was almost too cheap before.

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

WOTW: Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctors Creek Pinot Noir 2007

A tasting of five Marlborough pinot noirs produced by Saint Clair has resulted in the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir 2007 being awarded the status of the week's Wine of the Week. It's a youthful wine with a fine tannin structure and a deep complexity that tantalises and satisfies.

It was tasted alongside Saint Clair Vicars Choice Pinot Noir 2007, Saint Clair Pioneer Block 5 Bull Block Pinot Noir 2007, Saint Clair Reserve Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir 2006 and Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 Sawcut Pinot Noir 2005. Click here to read the reviews.

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

Travels with Wine Episode 5 - Karikari Estate

I've just posted Episode 5 of my Travels with Wine to the Travels with Wine blog.   I'm still touring Northland but have now left Kerikeri and have headed north, via the 'scenic route' to New Zealand's most northern vineyard and winery, Karikari Estate. My visit in April this year was my third visit to this idyllic part of Godzone - I just love Karikari Beach, the white sands of which you can see in the distance from the winery. kke-tannat

It was also a chance to taste my first 100% varietal finished wine made from the Tannat grape - although I did taste this wine from barrel in December 2006.

Karikari Estate Paewhenua Island Tannat 2006 is made from first crop grapes grown on Paewhenua Island, just south of Coopers Beach. It's a big, rich succulent wine with a vivid deep cerise colour, aromas of savoury vanillin oak, old spice, musk and pencils shavings and amazing plush red fruits in the palate with tobacco, spice, cigar and grippy tannins that balance the creamy structure. It's what I call 'OMG' stuff.   Sorry, I did not note the alcohol but it is sealed with a DIAM cork and costs about $45 a bottle.  Karikari Estate have also redesigned their label for this and other new vintage releases.

Click on the Travels with Wine link above to read my article.

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

Bledisloe Cup of Pinot Noir

A cryptic title perhaps but after watching the Bledisloe Cup of rugby last night, an annual event between New Zealand and Australia, which New Zealand (thankfully) won to level the score to one win each after two of the three matches, I thought this review of a pinot noir tasting could well be the lead up to a Bledisloe Cup of Pinot Noir. Not my review but that of Kate Hickey, one of the Kiwi Wine Fan Club contributing writers, who attended a Pinot Noir Master Class in Sydney in preparation for the Kiwi Wine Fan Club New Zealand versus Australia Pinot Noir taste-off  later in the year.  Although we may not all understand the (tongue in cheek, eyebrow raising) "points out of 109" rating system, the words and findings are definitely worth rolling an eye over.  BTW Kate, I agree with your comments about Martinborough although, as Sue's Vinous Ramblings reader John reminded me, we should perhaps include the surrounding Wairarapa region. I've been equally impressed with some of those wines too.

I'm tipping New Zealand will definitely outclass the Aussies in the Pinot Noir match.

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

Moroccan spices and Gewurztraminer

When I called into the Oteha Valley Road butcher the other day he still had some of the Bridge Hill Central Otago Dried Cherries for just $3.95 a bag as well as Bridge Hill Central Otago Dried Apricots for $5.95 a bag. I would have stocked up on these given the excellent price, but they do have use-by dates so bought just one bag of each.

The lamb, as usual for this butcher, looked fantastic and apricots together with lamb had me leaning towards Moroccan flavours. It's mostly slow cooking at this time of year so the lamb was destined for the Dutch oven inside the main oven. But first of all those fragrant Moroccan spices ….

Moroccan-flavoured Lamb with Apricots and Cumin
Cumin seeds were dry 'roasted' in a pan and then crushed in the mortar and pestle to release even more fragrance. That made about two teaspoons and enough fennel seed, to make half a teaspoon when ground up, was added. The lamb leg pieces, still on the bone, were browned in a little oil on one side while the spices were rubbed into the other side before being flipped. They went into the Dutch oven together with 1 sliced red onion, one coarsely chopped carrot, one coarsely chopped parsnip, 12 Central Otago dried apricots, a cup of very lightly oaked chardonnay and a 400g can of Watties Moroccan tomatoes. Cooking took about two hours at160 degrees C, with the lamb, by the end of cooking, almost falling off the bone. It was a dinner made for two and was served with mashed potatoes and green beans.

We had some pinot noirs open, but they were a screechingly awful match and the chardonnay didn't work either. Then I found the Framingham Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2007 opened a couple of weeks before but well preserved by its screwcap. I wouldn't have thought of gewurztraminer and lamb but with the dominant cumin spice flavour and the sweetness imparted by the apricots and carrots, it actually worked.framingham gw

Framingham Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2007 is a strong tasting, powerful wine with an oily texture and flavours of exotic spices. It's a little sweet (14 grams residual sugar) with low acidity and just too powerful for my palate to drink on its own. It really needs food to tame it. I originally thought a Thai Green Curry and it did work well when matched to a roasted chicken that had been marinated and baked with Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce, Honey and Garlic.

Also, to finish off the Gewurz on a lazy late Saturday afternoon was Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup. Red onions were sauteed for a few minutes then a teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander were added. Then chunks of pumpkin - enough for two people, 250g of commercial vegetable stock and water to bring up to the required level. When the pumpkin had softened, a 390g can of chickpeas in brine, that had been drained and rinsed, was added and the soup cooked about 15 minutes longer. Some of the chickpeas were removed with a slotted spoon and put to one side while the remainder of the saucepan contents were blended. Then after blending the reserved whole chickpeas were added. This was an even better match with Framingham's Gewurztraminer.

The only problem with the soup, for me at least, was the after effect of the chickpeas. Oh, the wine has 14% alcohol and costs about $26.95 a bottle. Check out

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