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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: November 2008
Nov 30th: More food to eat with Sauvignon Blanc
Nov 29th: More tasty Sauvignon Blancs
Nov 28th: A Wednesday tasting *and* a Thursday tasting too
Nov 26th: ... Or did they?
Nov 24th: The TV News got it wrong
Nov 23rd: Church Road strikes again
Nov 22nd: Gold Medal Value and News Update
Nov 20th: Misha's Lucky Eight
Nov 19th: All Important International Recognition
Nov 18th: Sometimes the wine needs to be chilled
Nov 17th: Another juicy Waipara Riesling
Nov 16th: Dom Mondillo stars at the Wednesday tastings
Nov 14th: What does Stelvin mean?
Nov 12th: Air NZ Wine Awards medals announced and my Gold Medal Summary updated
Nov 11th: Still on the Riesling kick ...
Nov 9th: Blast from the Past - 2000 vintage Sauvignon Blanc
Nov 8th: Ravishing Rieslings at the Wednesday tasting
Nov 7th: Record exports, falling domestic sales and other news snippets
Nov 5th: Sauvignon Blanc food friendly nibbles
Nov 3rd: The most exciting wine from Matakana
Nov 2nd: Gorgeous Pinot Noirs at the First Glass tasting
Older Entries

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

More food to eat with Sauvignon Blanc

If you are looking for something more than a snack to match to New Zealand's vibrantly fruity, tangy, grassy and herbaceous Sauvignon Blancs, then I recommend you try these recipes. Red capsicums, asparagus and salad ingredients are in abundance and the herbs are flourishing in the garden, so apart from the decadent cheese, it's a gourmet meal for little expense and is delicious to accompany new season's sauvignon blanc - and last season's sauvignon blanc too.

Chicken Thighs stuffed with asparagus, capsicum and feta
(for two)Prep for stuffed chicken

  • Four boned out chicken thighs
  • Four pieces of asparagus
  • Half a red capsicum cut into four strips.
  • Four similar-sized slices of Kapiti Goats Cheese feta - this is a firm feta and does melt away while cooking.

Wash and dry the chicken thighs.
Cut the asparagus into equal halves, just a little longer than the thigh and place lengthways along the thigh piece. Ditto with the capsicum and the cheese.
Bring the edges of the thighs together and and secure with a tooth pick.
Brown in a pan over medium heat - oil is not necessary if you have a gorgeous new non-stick pan, like I do.
Sue's Stuffed Chicken ThighsLine a baking dish with paper and placed the browned stuffed chicken thighs on the paper.
Cook at 180-190 degrees for about 30 minutes. Cover with more baking paper so it doesn't dry out and to complete the cooking. Cut each thigh in half and arrange on the plate for effect.

Coriander and Capsicum Potatoes
This exciting, mildly spicy and herb-embellished potato dish not only tastes good, it looks bright and colourful too. It is delicious with the stuffed chicken thighs and also with white-fleshed fish that has been rolled in a mixture of flour, ground cumin, ground cinnamon and ground coriander before cooking.  Again, it is designed for two.

  • 2 medium to large potatoes, peeled and diced into cubes - enough to cover the base of a moderately sized pan/skillet. I prefer Agria spuds.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive or rice bran oil.
  • Half a large red capsicum (the other half from the chicken dish)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Abundant fresh coriander, including stalks.

corianderspuds.jpg (59512 bytes)Heat the oil in a pan and add the potatoes in one layer. Cook over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes on one side, then turn.
Add the chopped garlic and the capsicum that has been cut into narrow strips, and cook 2-3 minutes more.
Remove the coriander leaves from the more fleshy stalks, chop the stalks and add them to the potatoes. At this stage, test the potatoes for doneness.
I like to pop them into the oven to finish cooking. The remaining coriander leaves are chopped and stirred in about a minute before serving.

Serve the chicken and potatoes with a tomato, lettuce and basil salad. There is so much going on here, you'll be hard pressed to find a fresh New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that doesn't work. I even recommend Cloudy Bay - see my Oct 21st blog entry. The potato and fish combination was a delicious match then.

Disclaimer: While the chicken thighs were my own evolution of hundreds of stuffed chicken ideas, the potatoes were inspired by a recipe from the jkdietpages, which popped up on a Google search

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

More Tasty Sauvignon Blancs

I'm really enjoying the 2008 vintage Sauvignon Blancs - most of the ones I've tasted from right around the country are, well …. tasty . So here's a few from the tasting box. We tasted the wines before dinner then again with dinner, which was chicken thighs stuffed with goat's cheese, asparagus and red capsicum - food for the wines, food for the season. I'll post the recipe tomorrow.

Six Sauvignon Blancs

Hunter's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is bright and juicy with lime and passionfruit scents. A 'high-toned' savvie, it's bright and vivacious with juicy citrus, tropical fruit, summer herbs and capsicum. It has a lightly oily texture and although more medium-bodied in style than some of its Marlborough neighbours, it has a zesty tingly finish that in true Sauvignon form, is long, long, long. My score: 17/20. And what do you know, this wine sung with the food.

Cape Campbell Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 has some asparagus as well as exotic tropical fruit on the nose that carries through the palate. Tinged with pineapple, melon and kiwano, it seems to be a warmer climate style, however it's quite grainy textured with an almost unbalanced seam of pithy lemon and a flintiness to finish. I scored it 14.5/20. We didn't like the wine on its own but surprisingly, it was even better than the Hunter's with the food.

Wild South Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is what I call 'old fashioned' in style. The nose offers up gooseberry and grass with asparagus and capsicum that carry through to the pungent, flavoursome palate. Full of gooseberry, lime, asparagus, bean and capsicum with a slightly grainy texture, a refreshing zesty brightness and a long mouthfilling finish, it is a powerful savvie that can stand up to powerful sauvignon-friendly food. My score: 17.5/20. Yes the food match worked.

Morton Estate Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 smells grassy, crisp and fresh and has plenty of bright acidity in the palate with classic Savvie flavours of grass, herbs and juicy sweet fruit. It seems quite subtle and 'delicate' in the tasting but has a lasting citrussy finish. My score: 15/20. With the food the wine seemed quite grainy.

In contrast, Morton Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is fabulously aromatic with lime and pineapple on the nose and is immediately rich and flavoursome to the taste with ripe juicy fruit and an orange honey infusion to the bright, fresh, herbaceous flavours. My score: 16/20. We liked the wine and food match too.

Matahiwi "Holly" Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2007 seemed a little out of place in this tasting. A year older 'alternative' style, it is quite appealing for Chardonnay lovers with its creamy oak and peachy fruit scents. A well-made, well-balanced oak-aged style with a wild yeast influence, the peachy characters carry through to the soft mealy palate where Sauvignon's typical pungency combined with more classic flavours firmly asserts their stamp on the long, full finish, despite it's lighter 12.5% alcohol. We rated this wine 'Yum' and the Wine of the Tasting. I scored it 18/20. It was a tasty food match too.

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

A Wednesday Tasting *and* a Thursday tasting too

The notes from the Wednesday night tasting, where the theme was Air New Zealand Wine Awards Trophies and Others, are now posted - click here to read them.

It was two tasting nights in a row this week at First Glass because last night was the exclusive 'Valued Customer' or VC Cardholder evening - and that was a load of fun with some fantastic wines and some options games. These were the wines that I considered highlights -  

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Waldron Chardonnay 2005 from Marlborough - a rich, creamy, mealy Chardonnay with toasty oak, butter caramel, a touch of zest and tropical fruit. No real sign of age but lovely integration and drinking beautifully right now.

Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer 2004 from Alsace - spicy and delicate yet at the same time powerful - it just builds and builds in the mouth and has a rich long finish (which is what the Hunters from the night before lacked).

John Forrest Collection Dry Riesling 2005 from Marlborough - I thought this just had to be Australian because it was so dry and limey with those hints of kero that come with a little little age.  I was wrong.   Initially quite bracing but becoming increasingly richer, this  wine looks like it could outlast me.

Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 - what a treat- gamey and earthy and just a little meaty - showing lovely bottle development (esp after all the 2007's I've been drinking) but not too much.  Satin smooth texture, macerated cherry fruit, Xmas cake and a spicy flourish with all those delicious flavours leaving behind a very satisfying aftertaste - my Wine of the Night

My VC Card, which is in effect a 'Loyalty Club' card, costs $24 a year and I get 10% off purchases - but only off wines not already discounted - and I get a stamp in my card for each wine tasting I attend and for every $50 spend.  Completed cards (ten stamps) go into a barrel from which cards are drawn for weekly prizes, and there are other bonuses too.

Last night I paid $15 for the wine tasting which gave me three raffle tickets for the 15 additional prizes (alas I didn't win any), then after the wine tasting and games had finished, 50 pizzas arrived for the 115 people and plenty of other wines flowed.  When you consider that going to the Pizza Hut for a pizza and a couple of glasses of wine after a wine tasting would cost the same as the 'Loyalty Club' outlay in the first place, the return on investment is quickly recouped and every thing else is gain. It's the kind of investment I like.  But as some wine drinkers may have found out recently, not all 'Loyalty Clubs' are created equally.

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

... Or did they?

The heading is in reference to the previous entry (scroll down) and I pose the question because I've just come back from the Air New Zealand Trophy and Gold Medal wines tasting at First Glass and there was no Champion Syrah / Champion Wine of the Show because the retailer couldn't get any. In fact he was told the wine was in the process of being labelled.  "Mmmmm," I'm thinking. So I wonder if it will be at the tasting next week.

Rockburn PNIt was a good tasting tonight with several highlights - the wines will be listed on my website as usual  on Friday.  But one of the highlights was the Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 - a star performer at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, winning both Champion Pinot Noir and Open Red Trophies. This wine definitely is available and has been for some time because it has already won gold medals from three different shows in New Zealand as well as from San Francisco, and a five star rating in Cuisine and what's more, it's replicated the Trophy performance of the 2006 vintage wine.   I described this in brief notation as "a sensual pinot with opulent fruit, smoky oak and load of savouriness".  Read all the accolades for this wine at

Oh, I've finally posted this week's Wine of the Week - the Kumeu River Coddington Vineyard Chardonnay 2007. This is a single vineyard wine and was slightly edging out the Kumeu River Mate's Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 when I tasted it last week, although the latter has all the hallmarks of being the most long-lived - click here to read the reviews.

Also at this tasting perhaps the best Kumeu River Pinot Noir I've ever tasted.   I was there at harvest on the 6th March 2007 and know just how pristine the clone 777 grapes were. Take excellent fruit coupled with a brett evacuation from the barrels and the result is a very good and very tasty wine. Kumeu River Estate Pinot Noir 2007 is a deeply translucent ruby in appearance with ripe juicy fruit and smoky bacon scents. Villages PNModerately rich and opulent with grainy tannins and a meaty savouriness, it opens up to reveal chocolate and spice over a ripe creamy backbone with a hum of underlying acidity. You'd never guess Auckland if tasting blind.  Price is $36-$38 and alcohol clocks in at 13%.

Possibly even more exciting, mostly because of the price, is Kumeu River Village Pinot Noir 2007. A translucent garnet colour, this smells similar to the estate wine but has rather surprising generous flavours. There's blue fruit, a hint of sweetness, a savoury finish and a touch of liquoricey herbs and spice.  At 12% alcohol, it is a lighter Burgundy "villages" style and at under NZ$20, it is at least 1/2 to 1/4 of the price.  Recommended.  Check out

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

The TV News got it wrong

A nice little item about the Air New Zealand Wine Awards screened on TV One last night - click here - but whoever told the One News reporters that the winning wine would not be available until March next year, got it wrong. While the wine might not have been on the shelves in the shops the reporter surveyed yesterday, the wine was definitely available today. 

"Yes the Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 is available for purchase" said Pernod Ricard New Zealand's Public Relations Manager Cathy McKeown in response to my email.   It's available at the Church Road Cellar Door in Hawkes Bay, selected On Premise and Fine Wine Retail predominantly.   "Be quick - it's looking like it's going to be a pretty popular wine :)," said Cathy and I've already had an email from one retailer who is selling it for $36 a bottle.  

Hopefully I will get to taste it at the First Glass Tasting of Air New Zealand Gold and Trophy winners this coming Wednesday night.  Not sure where other tastings are on as the Air NZ Wine Awards website still has the 2007 Awards tasting events listed.

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

Church Road strikes again

chrd-sy.jpg (11719 bytes)Just two months after winning the top accolade of Champion Wine at the Show  at the New Zealand International Wine Show with the Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006, the team at Church Road Winery have done it again. This time it is the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the wine is the Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007.  Last night, at the awards dinner, it received the supreme accolade of Champion Wine of the Show leaving the other 1750 competition entries in its wake.

It is the second year in a row that the Champion Syrah has also been rewarded with Champion Wine of the Show honour at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Last year it was Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2006, also from Hawkes Bay, that claimed the title.

During the gala evening the following wines were all declared "Champions" and awarded Trophies for the categories as listed -

Sparkling Wine: Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blanc 2000
Chardonnay: Vidal Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2007
Sauvignon Blanc: Goldwater Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Riesling: Forrest The Doctor's Marlborough Riesling 2008
Pinot Gris: Shingle Peak Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008
Gewurztraminer: Hunter’s Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008
Other Whites & Rosé: Villa Maria Estate Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2007
Pinot Noir: Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot/Cab Blend: Selaks The Favourite Merlot Cabernet 2007
Syrah: Church Road Reserve  Hawke's Bay Syrah 2007
Other Red Styles: Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawke's Bay Tempranillo 2007
Medium Sweet or Sweet Wine: Forrest The Doctor's Noble Chenin Blanc 2008
Exhibition White or Sparkling: Villa Maria Estate Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2006
Exhibition Red Wine: Nautilus Four Barriques Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Open White Wine: Goldwater Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Open Red Wine: Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
Sustainable Wine: Crossroads Winery Elms Vineyard Hawke's Bay Reserve Syrah 2007
Wine of the Show: Church Road Reserve Hawke's Bay Syrah 2007

More details from or

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

Gold Medal Value and News Update

The Wednesday Tasting at First Glass this week proved that you don't have to spend a fortune to buy gold medal wines.  In fact, the bargain of the night  - the McWilliams Hanwood Merlot 2007 was only $12.99 a bottle. The tasting got off to a good start with Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008, a gold and trophy winner in London, setting the standard. Saint Clair 11

However my Wine of the Night was the Saint Clair Block 11 Cell Block Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 - it's like crème brulee with a citrus-infused butterscotch topping served alongside a platter of tropical fruit and all the while those smoky, savoury notes keeping the fruit sweetness in check. With the extra year of age over the current release, this is the kind of creamy, harmonious Chardonnay that most of the people I know like to drink.   It's up there in price, though, around $30 a bottle.

Here in New Zealand news that Jenny Dobson, who mysteriously disappeared from the team at Te Awa earlier this year, is the new winemaker at Unison.  Te Awa's loss, Unison's gain. Jenny seems just the person to keep the Unison label up to the high quality we have come to rely on.

At the unique Tri-Nations Wine Competition, announced in Sydney last night, South Africa had one category win and New Zealand had three but Australia came out well ahead with nine category wins as well as Top Red and Top White, thus overall Wine of the Show.  It's funny how older Semillon does so well in so many Australian shows and this show too because the 2008 Tri Nation judges absolutely loved the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003, which took out the Top White as well as the coveted Wine of the Show accolade.  Australia also bet New Zealand in the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir classes but New Zealand got one back in the Shiraz/Syrah class. Judges were Bob Campbell MW (NZ), James Halliday (Aus) and Michael Fridjhon (SA) with Robert Joseph from the UK as Chairman. The results can be viewed on

New Zealand is staying on the radar in other international competitions with Spy Valley winning 'New Zealand Producer of the Year', at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, which is held in London. Other finalists were Villa Maria, Mud House, Saint Clair and Astrolabe. Spy Valley also won gold at the India Wine Challenge 2008, as did Auntsfield, Mud House, Palliser, Saint Clair and Spinyback (Waimea Estate). Incidentally Robert Joseph, chair of the Tri-Nations, also chairs this show. I see from the website that John Forest was one of the judges.Nautilus PN

News has come through from Hobart that Nautilus Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 was awarded the trophy for Best Pinot Noir at the Royal Hobart International Wine Show. Hunters Gewurztraminer 2008, Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Secret Stone Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Te Whare Ra Pinot Noir 2007, Saint Clair Block 14 Pinot Noir 2007 and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2007 were also gold medal winners.

Meanwhile in the USA, Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was crowned the grand champion of the Old Ebbitt Grill Oyster Riot in Washington DC. Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is also flying high with with Quatar Air.

Right now the Sydney International Wine Competition successes are filtering through. I'll be adding those wins to my Gold Medal Wines list, once all the results are known.

Last but not least, Rockburn winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis has been awarded The Australian Wine Society Young Winemaker of the Year Sommeliers Choice Award for the 2007 Rockburn Pinot Gris at a lavish dinner on 1 November in Sydney. Malcolm is the first New Zealander to win a Young Winemaker title since the competition began eight years ago.

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

Misha's Lucky Eight

Ask Misha Wilkinson the significance of number 8 and be prepared to listen. There are many reasons and even more coincidences that has made number 8 more than a good luck charm.

Oliver, Misha and Andy - photo Sue Courtney www.wineoftheweek.comWhen Misha and Andy Wilkinson decided to plant a vineyard in Central Otago, they settled on a site on State Highway 8 at Bendigo, just 8 kilometres from Cromwell. It was where gold was once mined by the Cantonese and to honour the 'old gold' history, a Chinese gold coin was placed under each of the first eight rows. These eight gold coins are carried through to the distinctive and attractive bottle label and represent 8 bunches of grapes on the single vine. To date they have planted 88 kilometres of vines and they are oriented in two directions - 288° on the lower slopes and 341° (adding up to 8) on the higher terraces. Not only that, they picked the grapes this year on the 22nd April, which a friend pointed out is 2+2+4=8.

"Do you have No. 8 wire in your vineyard?" I had to ask. Now Misha is going to check that out.

Misha and Andy are great marketeers, one of the key aspects that a winegrower needs to tackle. But they leave the viticulture and winemaking to experts in those fields - Robin Dicey and Oliver Masters respectively. In the picture above, Oliver is on the left and Andy is standing behind Misha. It seems they make a great team as Misha's Vineyard has already produced new gold from the old gold mining land with a gold medal award for the Gewurztraminer at the 2008 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. 

And so to the label names that you will see in the reviews below - Misha explains that she grew up in theatres spending many hours in dressing room with her opera singer mother. Thus the names of each wine represent some aspect of her childhood life.

I tasted the following wines over lunch today at upmarket Auckland restaurant, The Grove, where I was one of Misha and Andy's 8 guests. 

Misha's WinesMisha's Vineyard 'Dress Circle' Pinot Gris 2008 has a delicately fragrant perfume with a hint of zest and a slightly oily textured palate with pear and mandarin and a bright citrus flourish to the zesty finish. There is heady alcoholic warmth yet  a refreshing coolness. Beautifully matched to Tortellini of goats curd & chives on a bed of sauteed peas and beetroot.

Misha's Vineyard 'Limelight' Riesling 2008 has lime and apples on the nose and later some floral notes too. Weighty and off dry with richness and concentration, the notes say it has some oak and wild yeast - they don't add flavour but they do add complexity. Lime is the dominant flavour with racy acidity taming the sweetness, which you would never guess was as high as 29 grams per litre. An interesting name, 'limelight', like the others theatrical in origin but it coudl also imply the lime driven flavour. Perfection on its own with the wine's limelights shining even brighter when matched to kingfish carpaccio with crayfish jelly and lime zest.

Misha's Vineyard 'The Gallery' Gewurztraminer 2008 is a richly flavoured wine, delicate yet full. It's one of those wines that expands beautifully in the mouth and stays. Aromatic spices, Asian fruit, a touch of damask and delicate zest, then later exotic tropical fruit and a hint of anise. To me this was a star match to confit of duck leg and spicy, crispy skin duck breast with poached pear, verjuice and a red wine purée.

Misha's Vineyard 'The Audition' Pinot Noir 2007 is a bright yet deep ruby colour and is smoky and aromatically scented and richly flavoured with exotic spices, black cherry and plum fruit and reasonably forward varnishy oak with gamey flavours evolving on the finish and again, that little hint of anise. Made from the first fruit picked off the vineyard, from the first vines planted in 2004, it has passed the audition. It will get to play a part in the chorus but the scene has been set for a leading role with more vine age and less new oak in subsequent years. Best match was ostrich fillet topped with foie gras and sprinkled with 'chocolate soil'.

These are beautiful wines, the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer in particular, both rating 8 out of 10 and my favourites on the day.

Check out and be sure to persue the photos in the Gallery - some are as striking as the wines. You can also find Misha's Vineyard on Google Earth - tap in the co-ordinates 44° 57' 50.00 S / 169° 17' 01.17 E and you will be able to zoom right into the tractor shed.

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

All Important International Recognition

Youtematainvite.jpg (34492 bytes) are invited "to celebrate a significant milestone" stated the invitation from John Buck of Te Mata Estate. So like a good little girl I made the journey into the city to find out what the significant milestone would be.

The gathering was at Kermadec on the Viaduct and the last time I was at this venue with Te Mata Estate it was the 'Godzone Rhône' tasting of Syrah and Viognier. But when I entered the room and quickly took in the wines, only the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Te Mata Elston Chardonnay and the 2004 and 2006 vintages of Te Mata Coleraine could be seen. So there had to be another reason for the gathering. Then John Buck took centre stage and all was revealed. It was because Te Mata Estate was one of five wineries given five stars in the newly released 7th Edition of Robert Parkers Wine Buyer's Guide. Te Mata joined Felton Road, Rippon Vineyard, Pegasus Bay and Ata Rangi in this very distinguished accolade.

According to John Buck, it puts these wineries on a par with the best in the world. It makes New Zealand wine a premium, luxury, branded good.

I had a glass of Elston 2007, then the 'drinking beautifully now' Elston 2006, which I took downstairs to savour and enjoy with Peter Thornley's canape creations.

"Would you like some foie gras?"

How could I refuse?

By this time I had the gloriously aromatic Te Mata Coleraine 2004 in my glass and yes, it worked. The foie gras brought out an earthiness in the wine while making the red fruits sing. Harmonious and totally seductive, according to my previous notes, Te Mata Coleraine 2004 is a blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot. This is a vintage that John Buck said everyone ignored, except Neal Martin, of course. Only nobodies like me had previously rated it. I stated after a tasting on the 15th February 2006 that, "With fantastically cellaring potential, this is a very complex wine, deserving of its status as one of New Zealand's top reds".

Neal Martin's rating of 94/100 was a bit on the lean side, I think.

So it has taken some time for NZ's wines to be recognised in Parker's Wine Buyers Guide. Hey, but now we're there. And be prepared for more because Neal Martin (Robert Parker's New Zealand reviewer man) is coming back to New Zealand in January 2009.

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

Sometimes the wine needs to be chilled

I always taste wines at room temperature - there are exceptions of course, like bubblies for the simple reason that the fizz doesn't explode everywhere when the cork is popped. Also in the winter I have been known to warm red wines slightly.  But room temperature usually suffices. However, with a 16 wine Pinot Gris tasting I did last week I wrote beside several wines, "would be better chilled". So that's what I did.  All the wines were popped into the refrigerator for a couple of hours and for most of the wines chilling really did make a difference while in the very best examples the chilling added an extra dimension of juiciness and refreshing crispness.  For some, I'm sure, it even added more flavour.

It didn't change my wine of the tasting, however, which is this week's Wine of the Week, the Rimu Grove Nelson Pinot Noir 2008 - I could drink this wine any which way. Click on the underlined link for more in depth details of the tasting.

Wines I really liked chilled, some with revised scores are ....

Camshorn Waipara Pinot Gris 2008 - with chilling and time in the bottle the score of this fresh fruity wine was revised from 17.5 to 18.5/20
Mount Dottrel Central Otago Pinot Gris 2008 - the juicy fruit intensity is heightened with chilling. 15.5 -> 16.5/20.
Riverby Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 - this performs best when chilled, there are more limey notes on the nose and it delivers a crisp, refreshing, juicy finish. 16.5/20.
Astrolabe Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 - A little sweet and lollyish at room temperature, this off dry style drinks best when chilled. 16/20.
Wild South Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 - Chilling enhances both flavour and the lightly viscous texture. 17/20.
Woollaston Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 - Chilling enhances the juicy sweet citrus and brings out a touch of ginger. 17 -> 18/20.
Te Mania Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 - A sweeter style with chilling enhancing the beautiful texture. 17.5 -> 18/20.

However one wine that didn't take to chilling was my favourite Marlborough wine on the first day of tasting, Lawson's Dry Hills Pinot Gris 2008. Chill only lightly or not at all. Another wine that can take or leave chilling is Cape Campbell Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008. It scored 17.5/20 on the first day of tasting.

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

Another juicy Waipara Riesling

Called into the Villa Maria Estate Trade Day yesterday held at their Mangere Winery situated in an old volcanic cater near the Auckland International Airport.  This is the closest winery to the airport and is a 'must visit' destination for wine tourists - especially those who are spending a limited time in the big smoke before they make their way to more glamorous wine regions further south.

It was a chance to catch up on the many wines this company produces in their family of brands - Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley and Thornbury, as well as talk to the winemakers. Simon Fell - photo by Sue CourtneyAnd so I stopped to talk to Simon Fell (pictured right), winemaker with Thornbury Wines.

The Thornbury brand utilises grapes from the regions they believe are best for that grape, thus they have Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Central Otago Pinot Noir, Hawkes Bay Merlot and ... you guessed it ... a Waipara Riesling. And apart from the Pinot Noir, the wines are  'line priced'.  So the whites are about $15 and lower when specialled. They are bargains but they ooze quality.

Thornbury Waipara Riesling 2008 follows the mould of others from the region and the vintage.  Crisp, yet juicy with scintillating lime-like acidity and a totally refreshing finish, just off dry and can be served well chilled. 

Simon has a blog he occasionally updates. Check out

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

Dom Mondillo stars at the Wednesday tastings

dommon.jpg (59608 bytes)A few weeks ago, Dom Mondillo from Central Otago swaggered into First Glass with samples and it was my fortuitous luck, as I just happened to be there. "Come and taste these wines," said Kingsley and I obeyed.   After duly tasted the wines, I was impressed.  More importantly, so were Kingsley and Sam, who made the decision to carry both and I got the chance to taste them again at two consecutive Wednesday tastings. Last week, it was the racy Riesling and this week it was the juicy blockbuster Pinot Noir.

Mondillo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 is a deep purple red colour - the colour of a ripe Black Doris plum. It smells inviting with chocolate, red berries, wild herbs and tar then the taste surpasses the expectation with a deep earthy savouriness underpinning the lush briary fruit, toasted spices and smoky French oak.  Focussed acidity makes the wine hum and the chocolate reappears on the lasting finish. It has 14.5% alcohol, a screwcap closure and an RRP of $40.

I learnt from Dom that his vineyard is in Bendigo on the north corner of Bendigo Loop Road and the road that goes up the hill to the now vineyard surrounded ghost settlements of Logantown and Welshtown. The talented Rudi Bauer, who was the first to plant grapes in the Bendigo subregion of Central Otago, makes the wine. Check out

Was it fair to put this wine up against the Pierre Andre Savigny Les Beaunes 2005 in the France versus Australasia tasting at First Glass last Wednesday? Probably not but it showed just how divergent the styles are becoming.  I appreciated the French wine for what it was and once the hard tannins melted away and the door of the barn was opened to let the fresh air in, I found a distinctive expression of the great Burgundy grape.

Actually there were some beautiful French wines, including the outstanding Albert Mann Alsace Gewurztraminer 2006, the seafood matcher Domaine Leflaive Macon-Verze 2006, the complex Domaine de Courteillac 2005 and the spicy, well-priced Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2004.

Check out all the France Versus Australasia tasting notes on my Wednesday Roundup page.

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

What does Stelvin mean?

I'm often asked this question after people read my History and Revival of Screwcaps, which I started to compile in 2001 (and I must fix the broken links in that page).  So thought I'd put my answer here on my blog.

As the capsule was designed and named by the French, the name is French in origin, so my theory is that it is a combination of two words 'stel' and 'vin' ....

'stel' could be an abbreviation of 'stellaire', the French word for stellar.
'vin' is the French word for wine.

However, as this translates long-handedly to 'stellar wine', for this to make sense in the context of closures, you have to look at the predecessor for the 'Stelvin', which was the 'Stelcap'.

'Cap' could be either the abbreviation for the French word 'capuchon', which means top or cap in English, or 'capsule', which means the same in both languages.

So, I think 'stelcap' meant a stellar cap for a bottle, and the word 'stelvin' was derived from this, meaning a stellar cap specifically for a bottle of wine.

Hopes that helps and thank to Kristi for prompting this post. Sue Courtney.

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

Air NZ Wine Awards medals announced and my Gold Medal Summary updated

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards medal winners were announced today - see and There were 91 gold medals (~5.2%) awarded from 1751 entries, with 239 silver medals and 399 bronze medals.

Pinot Noir was the most awarded category with 21 wines winning gold and for the first time Pinot Noir was top in the gold medal count. Chardonnay (15), Sauvignon Blanc(13) and Riesling (11) also made double figures.  The promising Syrah class resulted in 8 gold medal winners.

Some wines were awarded 'Pure' medals. These are given to wines made from grapes grown on 'sustainable' vineyards. One of the 'Pure Gold' winners will receive the Sustainable Wine Trophy at the awards dinner on Saturday 22nd November.

There are a few predictable results but also some very surprising results, including some of the Sauvignon Blancs that I rate as some of the best ever produced in this country only receiving a bronze medal. Perhaps the judges were not rewarding the overtly flamboyant styles. Other wines I expected to see in the medal list are missing completely - of course they may not have been entered or maybe among the 58% of the wines that received no award.

Of the 91 gold medals awarded, there are 66 or 67 wines for which the Air New Zealand Wine Awards is their first gold medal success this show season (starting August 2008).   It has expanded my 'Gold Medal Summary list' to over 300 wines - and there is still the Sydney International and next year's Easter Show to come.

Check out my revised Wine Show Gold Medal Summary - it has been updated today. It's in alphabetical order by producer and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards gold medal winners have the key code 'A'.

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

Still on the Riesling kick ...

... and quite likely to be for the rest of summer. I'm over Pinot Gris and although I love Sauvignon Blanc, it is Riesling that has provided the most pleasure in the last few days. I'm really liking what I'm tasting from 2008 - perhaps it was the rain before harvest that encouraged the touch of botrytis while the acidity stayed intact to provide that racy freshness, like in this week's Wine of the Week, the Muddy Water Growers Series Lough Vineyard Riesling 2008 rated 19/20 - click here to read the review.

Waipara Rieslings are performing, that's for sure- even on the price front. If a dry, racy, mouth-tingling citrussy drink is your style of wine - think freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice with the fruit's natural acidity tempered by just the right amount of sugar, then the Montana Reserve Waipara Riesling 2008 (11.5% alc) will be right up your alley. It has an attractive floral aroma and a vibrantly racy palate full of freshly squeezed juicy orange - it is so juicy, zesty, spritzy and fresh with a dry finish and over several days evolves beautifully in the bottle with tropical fruit and lime flavours coming into play. I rate it 18.5/20 and the Riesling Buy of the Year if you can get it for $12.99 on 'special' rather than the 'was' price of $21.99.

Also recommended, and co-incidentally from the same parent company (Pernod Ricard), is Camshorn Glasnevin Gravels Classic Waipara Riesling 2008 (11% alc). At first it is a little Pinot Gris-like with pear drop aromas and a soft entry to the palate but let it evolve and more typical citrus and honeysuckle scents please the nose while the racy acidity suddenly leaps out of the glass like a dolphin leaping out of water. Classic lime flavours, a grainy texture and a bright finish all add to the appeal of this fresh, juicy drink.  It's a lighter bodied style - a flirt - a party pleaser. My rating in this tasting was 17.5/20.  'Was' price is $27.95 but I've seen it as low as $21.50 in case buys.

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

Blast from the Past- 2000 vintage Sauvignon Blanc

No election hangovers today in this house, nor any hangovers from my sixth form school reunion that I went to last night - in retrospect a very quiet affair with cash bar instead of the copious amounts of free wine plied on us at the school's 75th reunion six years ago. The only wines I really fancied drinking were not available by the glass so I settled for a glass or two of on-tap Monteith's Black instead.  This is a rich, dark beer with a creamy, toasty sweet malty flavour and just $3 a glass compared to $7 a glass for the cheapest offering of wine. I had to laugh when I found myself the only chick in a group of guys and the only non-wine drinker among them.   How times have changed.

nobilo SB 2000 187ml bottleAnother blast from the past this morning when, for some weird reason, I thought it time to clean out my kitchen cupboard and came across a supply of 350 ml, 200 ml and 187 ml wine bottles I had been saving, in case I ever needed to decant some wine for 'later'. But one 187ml bottle was full and had never been opened. It was a House of Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2000. Nobilo and a couple of other wines companies were bottling a selection of their wines in these 187ml bottles for the airlines and the bottles had screwcaps. It was before the 'Screwcap Revival' of 2001 but nevertheless, screwcaps were accepted by airline travellers without any revile.

The wine is yellow gold in the glass, not deep, but indeed quite citrine bright. A little like Semillon on the nose in some respects  - almost buttery - like a lemon beurre blanc over new season's asparagus - with a toasty overlay. The asparagus notes carry through to the palate, which is full-boded with a creamy texture, a hum of fresh citrus acidity but most of all Sauvignon's characteristic pungency on the finish. Quite mellow and still very drinkable - the screwcap and the storage in the back of the cupboard had it drinking like it most cork-closed 2000 vintage savvies would have been drinking in 2002. The wine was $3 a bottle when I bought about a dozen, direct from the Nobilo cellar door.  It was our 'picnic' wine that year.

deposit on liner of screwcapThe only worry was the rusty colouring noticeable inside the screwcap on the edge of the film coating the liner. The cap itself won't rust as it is made of aluminium. We prised the liner out to inspect it under a high powered magnifying glass and then under a stereo microscope and came to the conclusion that it was some kind of wine residue that had oxidised. It seemed to be both on top of and, in one place, underneath the filmy coating where it had also seeped down the side into the underlying wadding. If it wasn't wine, we (i.e. Neil) couldn't imagine what else it might be. Not that this deposit came in contact with the wine stored long term in its upright state. But it make me think that, for long term cellaring, bottles with screwcaps should be stored upright in case something like this happens.

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

Ravishing Rieslings at the Wednesday tasting

"Chardonnay, Riesling and Shiraz" was the theme at the Wednesday tasting this week and for my dollar, the Rieslings were the highlights. Three were tasted - all beautiful wines but all quite different.

Mondillo Central Otago Riesling 2008 from the Bendigo subregion of Central Otago - dry (4 grams a litre of residual sugar) and weighty (13.5% alcohol) - love the crispness, purity and weight of this wine.

Spy Valley Marlborough Riesling 2008 was the crowd pleaser - it's an 'off dry' style with tropical fruit to the fore. If you know someone who shuns Riesling because they can't get to grips with it, then pour then a chilled glass of this on a summery afternoon because, really, there is nothing not to like. Don't tell them it's Riesling, just let them blindly enjoy this tantalising drop.

Lastly Main Divide Waipara Riesling 2008, which I had in a blind line-up of Waipara Rieslings the night before when I awarded it 18.5/20. Funnily enough Neil did not quite get to grips with it on Tuesday night but at the First Glass tasting, when it was also served blind, he wrote 'Ex.' The only difference was that on the Wednesday night, the wines had been served chilled. A juicy wine crammed with grapefruit,mandarin and exotic tree fruit in a more 'medium' style.

Three five star Rieslings in my book. My notes for these and the rest of the wines tasted on Wednesday night are now on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here.

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

Record exports, falling domestic sales and other news snippets

For the first time since 1991, sales of New Zealand wine have fallen on the domestic market, said New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive officer, Philip Gregan, on Wednesday. There are now 617 wine producers in New Zealand and the decrease of six percent may be an eye-opener to all the new wineries that are taking their first or second vintages to the market, even more startling for the new producers planning a first vintage next year and hoping their new brands to get recognition. The deficit has been taken up by imports of red wine from Australia.  

But New Zealand wine producers can be thankful that exports are still surging with a record value recorded for the month of September 2008 alone. The total of 101.7 million dollars for that one month is more than the whole of the 1998 year export value.   Sauvignon Blanc continues to be New Zealand's largest varietal export with Pinot Gris exports continuing to increase as demand intensifies internationally. Exports of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also continuing to grow. Australia is New Zealand's biggest growth market.

Meanwhile, Snovember is the new name for November as unseasonal weather grips the country - see this TV3 report.
It's not good news for grapegrowers as with frosts predicted throughout most of New Zealand, south of Hamilton - that means winegrowers in Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa as well as all over the South Island won't get much sleep tonight. There has been some frost damage already this season, confirmed when I was in Hawkes Bay two weeks ago.
For a TV3 report of the impending frosty event - click here.

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards were judged earlier this week with the overseas judges praising the quality of the wines, particularly Pinot Noir and Syrah. Although preliminary results do not get released until next Wednesday, November 12th, check out these television interviews to see what they have to say...

Australian judge Nick Stock - click here
US Judge Joshua Greene - click here

Incidentally I wasn't asked to write the Air New Zealand wine awards gold medal descriptions for the booklet and the website this year. That task fell to Sam Kim who wrote them in 2006.   I wrote the notes in 2005 and 2007. It seems we are on a see-saw of note writing in this respect. 

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

Sauvignon Blanc food friendly nibbles

My sisters invited us to dinner at their place last Friday night. Some of our childhood friends from the old neighbourhood and now scattered between three cities in two countries, were getting together.
"What can I bring," I asked.
"Just bring some wine".
I always take wine and hardly ever contribute to the food. I feel like I am going empty handed, never mind I may take up to a dozen wines that are left over from my tastings.
"What say I bring some wine and some nibbles to eat before dinner?"
"Great," came the reply.
I decided on some aromatic chicken bites and some tomato nibbles- the latter especially would be beaut with some of the sauvignon blancs. And even though I was running late home from work, these two dishes proved incredibly quick and easy to make.

Aromatic Chicken Bites
Chicken tenderloins were cut into three or four smaller pieces and coated in a mixture of flour, ground cumin, ground coriander and ground cinnamon then pan-fried until the chicken was cooked and the coating was crispy. At end of cooking, and because the pieces looked a little dry, I squeezed the juice of half a tangelo into the pan to add moisture. The juice quickly bubbled away but still added an extra dimension to the flavour of the chicken bites and they turned out to be beaut with Sauvignon Blanc too. They were served on a plate with toothpicks.

Tomato NibblesSue's stuffed cocktail tomatoes
I found orange coloured cocktail tomatoes at the fruit and veg shop as I raced in and out on the way home from work. I thought they would be ideal for stuffing. The tomatoes were halved and the seeds and juice scooped out and reserved in a bowl. Then the cavities were stuffed with soft Feta cheese and sprinkled with chopped up basil. This was a great success with the bright acidity of the tomatoes leaving behind a tangy fresh aftertaste. Quite more-ish to be sure and a perfect combination for fresh young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Why do as the television chefs throw out the juices and seeds from the scooped out tomatoes? It's an ingredient that is far too good to waste. So the next day I used the left over juice and seeds in my stuffed capsicums for a lazy Saturday lunch.

Stuffed CapsicumsSue's stuffed capsicum
For two people take one large red capsicum and halve, scooping out the seeds and pith. Take a slice of white bread and make into crumbs - easy to do if the bread is frozen and whizzed through a food processor. Add the reserved tomato seeds and juice (there was about 3/4 cup), soft Feta cheese that has been cut into small cubes and your favourite summer herb - I used chervil this time as the plant in the pot on the deck is going berserk. Next time I may use basil, or coriander. Mix the stuffing ingredients together - the bread absorbs the juices - and fill the capsicum cavities with the mixture. Place in a baking paper lined dish and bake in a 200° C oven for 20-30 minutes. This is another fantastic Sauvignon Blanc friendly food match - but also quite tasty with the Montana Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 and the Montana Reserve Waipara Riesling 2008.

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

The most exciting wine from Matakana

What is the most exciting wine from Matakana? According to New Zealand's first Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas, it is Syrah. He wrote in the SOMM magazine (Fall 2008), "What’s the most exciting wine I have tasted from Matakana? Syrah. You better believe it! The Ransom 2007 and the soon-to-be-released Providence 2005 are firm, dry and delicious Rhone styled wines."

"Did you mean that," I asked him at a function a couple of weeks ago.

"Absolutely," he replied. Those wines were amazing. But I learnt that Cameron had never tasted Matakana Syrah before.

I have and remember the promise of the Matakana Estate 1999, although now, in hindsight, it seems to have been a one vintage wonder. There is also the promising Coxhead Creek Syrah reviewed on this blog in May.

Of the two that Cameron tried, I haven't tasted the Providence but I have tasted the Ransom.

Ransom K Syrah 2007 from Matakana is a striking wine. It is deeply coloured, the aromas are rich and creamy with floral overtones and the flavours are rich, tarry, savoury and earthy on entry but become rather juicy with abundant blackberry and raspberry fruit, cake spices and plenty of oak. It's a robust, creamy mouthful of rich succulent red. I rate it 17.5/20 (four stars, silver medal standard). 

What Cameron Douglas MS had also not tasted, at the time of our conversation, was the Contour Estate Reserve Matakana Syrah 2007. This sumptuous wine is a purple-flushed red with an utterly appealing aroma embellished with rich creamy oak, spice and hints of old fashioned roses and mouthfilling creamy, juicy spicy flavours. I rated this 18.5/20 (five stars, gold medal standard). Thus it's this week's Wine of the Week - click here to read the full review.

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

Gorgeous Pinot Noirs at the First Glass tasting

A stunning line-up of Pinot Noirs was tasted at the First Glass Wednesday tasting last week and included the top nine Pinot Noirs from Cuisine Magazine's latest 'Berry Christmas' edition (see Oct 22nd entry). Twelve noirs were tasted in all with two of the other three recently awarded gold medal winners at the New Zealand International Wine Show while the 'twelfth man' was a Cuisine Top Ten place getter last year.

It was quite interesting, having tasted nine of the wines only 8 days before, so I tried to work out which wine was which by comparing my notes. Only Wooing Tree Beetle Juice 2007 did not show as strongly as it had the previous time, lacking its sweet-fruited generosity of the former tasting. I put the variation down to time of day (the first tasting was at lunchtime, the second in the evening) and size of glass (the first tasting in larger glasses that would befit a dinner party and perhaps allowed the wines to open up more quickly).

Craggy Range Zebra Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 was one of my personal favourites from the former tasting but I was surprised to find it did not have the same sensual appeal to many at the First Glass tasting - the tasters preferred the more upfront generous fruit-driven styles.

My top wines on the night were the West Brook Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007, which as the starter wine had plenty of time for the lingering aftertaste to flirt with the palate. The joint equal number two place-getter in the Cuisine line-up, the Domain Road Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007, also really strutted its stuff. Waipara Hills Southern Cross Pinot Noir 2007 was the super value star. However everyone agreed that the Cuisine Number One, the Villa Maria Seddon Pinot Noir 2006, was a notch above the others. I'd put that down to the extra year of age, which has added layers of finesse to its mouthfilling complexity.

All the tasting notes are on my Wednesday tasting page in the order of the tasting and all but the Beetle Juice (mentioned above) and last year's top ten placegetter, the Vidal Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006, showed as five star wines to me on the night. But quite honestly, I'd happily drink any of them :-)

The Cuisine 'top ten' wine absent from the Wednesday tasting was Voss Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2007. I noted this as having deep-pink purple hues to the dark red colour, a savoury smoky nose and a velvety cloak of rich, funky, savoury nuggety flavours that parts to reveal bright purple fruit, aromatic herbs and some exotic spice. A very 'gamey' style in the line-up of the Cuisine top 10 wines, this was rated five stars and number 10 by Cuisine.   I'd rate it 5 stars too.

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