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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.

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Archive: May 2009
May 29th: A Rose amongst Yalumba's Big Reds
May 27th: New Zealand plays a role in new Pinotage book
May 24th: Twelve vintages of Stonyridge Larose and a cult Napa Valley Cabernet
May 22nd: Big reds on the menu both at First Glass and at my table
May 20th: First taste of 2009 vintage Sauvignon Blanc
May 19th: Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - Gold Medal IWC
May 18th: Eight Day opened Rieslings
May 16th: Bob Campbell MW at the Wednesday Tasting
May 14th: Licorice, Mushroom and Blue Cheese, and three quite different Pinot Gris.
May 13th: That distinctive catty Sauvignon Blanc aroma - is it really news?
May 11th: Neil's Pork with Pinot Gris
May 10th: Autumn touring and tasting
May 7th: Two Viogniers from two distinctly different southern places
May 6th: Another Bollinger rarity
May 5th: It's Bolly Darling, but not as we know it
May 4th: Wine and food Matching - New Zealand style
May 1st: Cuisine Top 10 Chardonnays minus 1
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 29th 2009

A Rose amongst Yalumba's big reds

"Jane Ferrari won't be attending our annual Yalumba tasting this year," Kingsley Wood told the regular First Glass Wednesday tasters a few weeks ago. The collected outburst of disappointed sighs was to be expected. "However, we are still having our annual Yalumba tasting and Chief Winemaker Louisa Rose is coming in her place".

The appointed night arrived and so did Louisa.  She had been briefed by Jane not to try and tell us jokes  - nor tell awestruck stories abut Hugh Grant or All Black rugby players with rippling thighs - that would be encroaching too much on Jane's domain. However we did learn something about the wines.

Louisa RoseLouisa started her winemaking career making sparkling wine so it was appropriate the tasting started with a sparkler - the Jansz Methode Traditionelle from Tasmania. Then eleven wines with the Yalumba stamp of excellence followed.

Yalumba were the first to plant Viognier in Australia but for many years the wines were unattractive and hard - no wonder the one I bought in 1995 and opened a year or so later was failed to live up to the hype of the time. Then one year, when the grapes had been left on the vine for longer than usual, they experienced the Viognier flavour spike - the apricot and blossoms that characterise the best Viognier wines. They had finally sussed out the secret. I preferred the Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2007 over the finer textured Yalumba 'The Virgilius' Viognier 2007 on the night. It's perhaps because they are working on making Viognier to age and the Virgilius is getting that treatment while the Eden Valley wine is just ethereally beautiful right now. 

Seven reds - from the light, noirish, Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2007 that delivers so much more vinousness, than from the light colour, you would expect but of the lower priced (under $20) reds, the Yalumba Barossa Shiraz Viognier 2005 with its tantalising perfume and silky texture was my favourite. The it was on to the the big, big reds, the 'The' wines at more than twice the price. Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - a truly excellent wine, and Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz 2004 - simply delicious. Then Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Shiraz 2004 - Yalumba's equivalent of Grange at a fifth of the Grange price and last but not least, Yalumba The Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2001.

"What's your favourite," I asked Louisa after the tasting. She didn't have to think hard to reply '"The Menzies".  That's what she is photographed with above - a magnum no less.

My complete tasting notes for the evening are as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup Page - click on the blue link to be immediately cyber-transported there.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 27th 2009

New Zealand plays a role in new Pinotage book

I've just received an advance copy (to New Zealand) of Pinotage - Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine by Peter F May. I picked it up out of my letter box when I arrived home yesterday and read the chapter on New Zealand while still sitting in the car after opening my gate. Why, because I wanted to see what he had written, of course.

pinotagebook.jpg (12317 bytes)Peter has been an Internet 'buddy' since early 1998. He had created a website, in reference to this unique South African grape. I contacted Peter and said we grew Pinotage here too and sent him some of my reviews. But I didn't meet Peter in person until November 2007 when he made his first visit to New Zealand with the UK Circle of Wine Writers. He arrived a day earlier than the others and during the next two days I whisked him away to meet as many of the local Pinotage producers that I could. Unfortunately not all of them - it was the weekend and some were closed on the Sunday. And if that wasn't enough, after two days of intense visits and now struggling with jet lag, I made him sit down and taste a line-up of many of the country's Pinotage wines. This tasting is covered in the book. Elsewhere on his visit he met up with Jenny Dobson, the former winemaker at Te Awa who crafted several vintages of Pinotage, and in Waipara he met up with Belinda Gould of Muddy Water Pinotage fame.

Peter returned to New Zealand late last year, this time for a holiday because he loved the country so much, and to accompany on this trip, was author wife Elizabeth May. During this second visit he managed to touch base with producers he hadn't met the first time due to Circle of Wine Writers visit constraints. He drove north to New Zealand's northernmost Pinotage grower, Karikari Estate and tasted with winemaker Ben Dugdale. He met with a number of the Northland growers in Kerikeri - his visit coinciding with their annual BBQ. He spent Christmas and New Year in Nelson where he met former Pinotage grower, Phil Jones, of Spencer Hill then a week later met New Zealand's southernmost Pinotage grower, John Olssen of Olssens Wines in Central Otago. The grapes from Olssens go into a South African-like 'Cape Blend' style.

While in the deep south Peter went on a search to find New Zealand's oldest Pinotage vines. He explains in the book they were planted at a research station in Earnscleugh in the late 1950's and four vines, along with three Chenin Blanc, were rediscovered in 2002, but his detective work seven years later failed to find them.

The first Pinotage in New Zealand was released by Corbans Wines in 1964 and after Peter left New Zealand I went on a mission to try and find what were now New Zealand's oldest producing Pinotage vines. Peter says in the book, "probably at Kerr Farm" and finally, after speaking to every possible current and former Pinotage grape grower, I can confirm that Kerr Farms' vines, planted in 1969, are now the oldest still in production for a commercial Pinotage wine. Peter wrote about the lemon tree borer in these vines that we saw on our visit in November 2007 but when I spoke to Jaison Kerr in January 2009 he said, "the vines seem to have taken on a new lease of life - they are not going to die off anytime soon".  As I only managed to make contact with the last 'former' producer in April, the information came too late for Peter to include in his book. Other known Pinotage producers around Auckland have either pulled their old vines out, or replaced the old vines with younger plantings.

But there's more to the book than the chapter on New Zealand, of course, because this is South Africa's own special grape and it makes very interesting reading. The book coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first varietal Pinotage in South Africa. A cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, it was created by Professor Abraham Izak Perold at the University of Stellenbosch in the early 1920's. Unfortunately he died before in 1941, long before the vinous output of his creation.

There are many myths and legends associated with Pinotage and Peter covers them and debunks them. He also unravels a mystery that any mention of here would spoil for readers.

Other chapters in the book are concerned with people who grow Pinotage and places where it grows - the list is getting longer with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, Zimbabwe, and in the USA - California, Montana, New York, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia.

I like Ben Dugdale's quote in the book. He says, "to my mind Pinotage has a good future, but it really does need a public relations campaign". Congratulations Peter - this is wonderful PR for this misunderstood grape and the wine its makes. It's a well-researched and easy to read book. I recommend it.

Where do you buy? Well, simply check out There's a preview of the book there too. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 24th 2009

Twelve vintages of Stonyridge Larose and a cult Napa Valley Cabernet

This weekend I attended what I am sure will be the tasting of the year -  it was a tasting organised by a group of wine lovers who meet online at a 'offline' venue - the simple premise being if you want to attend, your entry card is a unique bottle of Stonyridge Larose. We ended up with 12 unique vintages - 89, 90, 91, 94, 96,99, 00, 02, 03, 04, 05 and 07.  This tasting is reviewed in great detail as this week's Wine of the Week - click here to read that review.

I also recommend you check out Craig Thomson's review on his Kiwi Wine Fan Club site. There's a writer waiting to be discovered hiding behind that pen.

But there was one other wine we also tasted - a wine, like Stonyridge Larose, with a reputation that also precedes it and a wine rarely - if ever before - seen on these New Zealand shores.  It was Ch Montelena Napa Valley CabChateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

My notes - Deep red, concentrated and dense. Perfumed, lovely primary blackcurrant of Cabernet fruit on the nose. Sweet oak, spice, earth, leather and cassis, the tannins are firm and grippy but the finish is deliciously long and sweet. Becomes quite raisiny with time. 14% alc.
Neil's notes: Bright red. Orange-fruit (whatever that meant). Fruit cake spice. Smooth tannins. Fine fruity finish. Generous red fruits. Very good.

We tasted this at then end of Flight 2, which included the 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2002 Larose.  Larose is a blend and in the Montelena, the purity of the Cabernet fruit definitely came through. 

I'll be talking more about Chateau Montelena later in the week because this winery starred in Bottle Shock the movie, which I've recently seen.  Nice to actually see a wine from there.  A real treat.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 22nd 2009

Big reds on the menu both at First Glass and at my table

Big red wines were on the menu at the First Glass Wednesday tasting this week but a Pinot Noir I opened at home could easily have qualified for inclusion. Mahi Rive PN 07
It is Mahi 'Rive Vineyard' Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 (14% alc. $45) made by Brian Bicknell, owner of Mahi and formerly of Seresin fame. This Marlborough Pinot Noir is one of the biggest and boldest from New Zealand that I've tasted for quite a while - and you can tell it is going to be big from the inky deep purple-red colour alone. Rich and ripe smelling, endowed with vanillin oak scents, I knew immediately that Neil would like it. The voluptuousness hinted at on the nose follows through on the palate - buxom, full-bodied and velvety textured with bittersweet strawberry and cranberry fruit, violets, smoke, earth and spice and a cake biscuit finish. It's definitely not subtle in its expression - a Pinot Noir made for Shiraz drinkers and even more so on the day after first opening, when it emanates even more voluptuousness and has Shiraz-like cherry and spice. Made from a single vineyard with Dijon Clone 667 and Clone 115, it was fermented by the action of indigenous yeasts and then was matured in French oak barriques for 16 months.

But back to the Wednesday tasting - it was Shiraz-lover's heaven with an outstanding lineup of wines but perhaps the one with the most interest was Wynns Michael Shiraz 2005 from Coonawarra. It seems this wine that used to retail around $100 a bottle has been quite devalued by the current brand owner - those lucky people at the tasting on the on the night could by this for under $50, although the 'special price' now is back up to $55. A dense, dark brooding wine with a firm acidic backbone, it has the components that will keep it maturing in the cellar for many years in line with the label's expectations. Talking about the label, there's an error on Michael's back one. The vintage of the wine is 2005 but it tells you "The 2004 is powerful, refined and polished. It will reward careful cellaring".

My notes for the Michael and the others are, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 20th 2009

First taste of 2009 vintage Sauvignon Blanc

I like visiting the Villa Maria Auckland winery. It is in South Auckland near the airport and the really is the jewel in Auckland's wine crown. But there has to be a good reason to go there on a week day, battling traffic from the North Shore all the way.

VIlla Maria in autumnI visited there last Wednesday with a 'tiki tour' detour through the beautiful grounds on my way to deliver my friend Helen to the airport. We first drove through a busy industrial area and I'm sure Helen wondered where we were going. Then it all became clear after we passed a hedge of trees and turned into a driveway. There before us, in the sunken caldera of an old volcano, was a vista of vines and serenity - only metres but a world away from the industry hustle and bustle.

Today I visited again only this time wine tasting was on the agenda. The raison d'etre was my first taste of the new vintage - the Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 that's nearing release. It's light gold in colour with a glassy lustre. There's passionfruit, tarragon and green bean on the nose - a nuance of white pepper too - and a softness to the texture that has an oily veneer. Flavours in the palate emulate the aromas with passionfruit, tarragon and bean. There's a flinty backbone to the wine and despite the 3.5grams per litre of residual sugar, the high acidity (7.5g/l) expressed as zesty citrus, makes the finish seem quite dry. Overall a very flavoursome but also a very gentle savvie style. It has 13% alcohol, screwcap, naturally, and a RRP of $17.99.

Villa Maria MT NVAlso tasted the new Villa Maria Methode Traditionelle NV - the first release of a concept that started in 2003. Made from 62% Pinot Noir from the South Auckland vineyard as well as from Hawkes Bay and 38% Chardonnay from Gisborne with three years on lees, this light gold onion skin-coloured bubbles has a constant bead coming up from the bottom of the glass. Savoury on the nose, it is crisp and fresh to the taste with a yeasty, almost marmite-like savouriness, a deep but subtle cherry nuance and citrus. It finishes dry with great persistence of flavour and length with stonefruit nuances coming through to linger. A great meet and greet wine.

Villa Maria is an emphatic cork free zone so this bubbles is sealed with a crown cap - now where's that old beer bottle opener? It has 12.5% alcohol and costs $35 at the winery at 113 Montgomerie Road, Mangere.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 19th 2009

Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - Gold Medal IWC

As a celebration of their recent gold medal win at the International Wine Challenge in London last week, the folks at Nautilus sent me a bottle of the gold-endowed Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 to try.Nautilus SB

I was a little surprised as they had already sent me a bottle to try, which I did, giving it a rating of 16.5 out of 20 (3.5 stars) in a blind tasting in February this year. It showed promise, lots of promise, but just seemed a little closed at the time to get a higher rating from me.

I'll try this wine openly and with food, I thought, and cooked a meal to match my previous notes - a crumbed chicken breast smothered with a creamy capsicum, tomato and basil sauce alongside potatoes, pumpkin and peas. It is comfort food and made a colourful sight on the plate.

As the sauce was cooking I tasted the wine again and I'm sorry, the nose of this wine just does not press buttons for me. It's herbal and a little muted from the freshly opened bottle - I really wanted more fruit, more vivacity and more zing. However the green grassy signature of Marlborough savvie comes through immediately in the palate with lots of citrussy zing. But I concur with my previous notes that it's a more 'old fashioned Marlborough style' with herbs and capsicum to the fore - tropical fruit was just not wanting to express itself at this tasting, and my original rating stands (similarly rated at the Air New Zealand and Royal Easter Show awards, I'll add). I think it would be delightful for a palate that doesn't like fruit leaping out of the glass and assaulting the palate, however. You could call it a 'more restrained' style.

The IWC judges commented, "Green and voluptuous with hints of smoke on the nose. Nice balance, crisp, with good length. Quite restrained, almost mineral edge, good and crunchy, with nice length. A classy wine."

The food match was excellent by the way - it's food that absolutely suits this style of Sauvignon Blanc, especially the capsicum, tomato and basil sauce. My recipe is on my food file pages - you can find it here  - with chicken obviously substitued for Chorizo and I used Thai basil because it still growing madly on the pots on my deck at this time.

At this year's IWC, Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was one of just 6 New Zealand white wines to win gold, including 3 other Marlborough Sauvignons. The other whites were ....

  • Thornbury Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Clifford Bay Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Century Hill Marlbrough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Seifried Nelson Winemakers Collection Agnes Riesling Ice Wine 2008
  • Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2007

You can search for results on

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 18th 2009

Eight Day opened Rieslings

When I open wines, they invariably do not get finished. I like to taste the wines more than once anyway and try them with different foods.  Even so, by recycling day there are enough partially consumed wines to fill my recycle bin. Some are tipped out - they need to be, some that haven't started to oxidise are blended together to make a new 'cuvee' and some, like these four Rieslings I'm reviewing below, are still a delight to taste and drink.  The Rieslings were opened on the 11th May and all have comprehensive tasting notes in this week's Wine of the Week review.

"I wonder what they are like now," I thought as I typed away and grabbed them from where they had been parked on the lounge floor in front of the cabinet. Surprisingly they were all good, so these reviews may be of interest to people like me who can make a bottle of wine last a few days.

8 day opened rieslingsBlack Estate Omihi Riesling 2008   - my Wine of the Week - still has that overt baked apple and herb (possibly sage) aroma but it is all beeswax and honey with sweet citrus and hints of apricot in the palate. The texture is lightly viscous and it momentarily seems like a late harvest, then racy lime-like citrus shimmers through to quell that sweetness on the deliciously long and full-flavoured finish.

The Domain Road Central Otago Riesling 2008 smells so much better - it's picking up lime and honey and some kero hints - it's wonderfully expressive in the palate too- grainy textured with a citrus pith astringency, lime, lemon and mandarin - an overlay of honeysuckle too. Great presence, great length - and it now seems very dry.

Murdoch James Martinborough Riesling 2008 is pretty much the same- freshly squeezed lemon and flowers on the nose with a hint of a kero notes that is stronger in the palate giving it an Australian Riesling-like tang. Love the light sherbet spritz and viscosity to the texture - it finishes very dry.

The Boreham Wood Riesling 2008 is just sweet and the apple flavours are quite dominant too although there's a delicious tug of earthy citrus, honey and flower musk and nectar and the finish is delectably moreish and ultra long.

The bottom line is these wines are all so very drinkable eights days after first opening. It is the screwcap closures, the cool autumn weather and nature of the Riesling grape, I suppose.

Please do check out the rest of the detail in this week's Wine of the Week review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 16th 2009

Bob Campbell MW at the Wednesday Tasting

Bob Campbell MW - photo by Sue CourtneyHe seems like the friendly guy next door but in fact he's New Zealand's most industrious wine educator, wine writer and wine judge. He is also known as the second New Zealander to gain the coveted Master of Wine title. He's Bob Campbell MW and he was the guest presenter at the First Glass Wednesday Tasting earlier this week. A popular presenter too, because over 120 tasters packed the room to listen to what Bob had to say.

The theme was European Wines, so the first wine, which was handed to me without me seeing the bottle, was a little surprising. "This smells so different to what we usually drink," I said to Neil. "It smells Australian - like a Semillon or an aged Riesling," I said. It was, in fact, Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 2007 - a very tasty little drop.

Among the European wines there were some absolute highlights - including Faiveley Grand Cru Les Clos 2005 my Wine of the Night, and many other's too. It was narrowly voted as Number 1 wine of tasting, beating Neil's favourite, Albert Mann Gewurztraminer 2007, into second position.

"Grand Cru Chablis can last for up to 40 years, if stored well," said Bob and recounted drinking old Chablis in London with Rosemary George MW.  "She actually wrote the book on Chablis," he added.

As for Gewurz, when one of the more vocal tasters said it wasn't very "Alsace-like", we learnt that if you know your Alsace Gewurztraminers well, you would know that every producer has a different signature and the Albert Mann was indeed Alsace-like but distinctly Albert Mann too.

The Marc Bredif Vouvray 2007 had the most potential of all of the wines to age and Bob recounted recently finding a 1947, his birth year wine, in an importer's throw-out bin for an extraordinarily discounted price. It was there because the label was damaged but the wine inside the bottle was simply fine. I also remember drinking a 1947 about 10 years ago - it was unbelievably good with aromas and flavours of honey and apricot jam.

Of the reds, many were value-packed for their prices - the Frescobaldi Remole Sangiovese Cabernet 2006 - for me the most value of all. It was the 'stand-up' options wine (everyone stands up and questions are asked with three options - you sit down when you get an answer wrong and the last person standing wins a bottle of wine). There were about eight of us left standing - we had determined it was an Italian wine made predominantly from the Sangiovese grape - when Bob asked of the vintage, "Is it 2007, 2006 or 2005?" I was going to go 2005, but when nobody put their hand up for 2006, I decided to take on the odds. It was indeed a 2006 and I won a bottle of the Frescobaldi Nippozzana Riserva Chianti Ruffina 2005, the next wine to be served.

A Bordeaux Superieur was slammed by one of the tasters, who ranted about it's poor value and commercial appeal.  "I actually quite like it," Bob said in reply.

However the Italian wines were the star reds of the evening, despite the very juicy Armantes Old Vine Garnacha 2006, being served. It was the Prunotto Barolo "Bussia" 2003 that sealed the Spanish wine's fate. The first time I ever drank Barolo, it was unapproachably tannic- and the "Bussia" was tannic too but in a very vinous and approachable way.

Click here to check out all my tasting notes on my Wednesday Roundup Page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 14th 2009

Licorice, Mushroom and Blue Cheese, and three quite different Pinot Gris

My friend from Queensland left for home yesterday after experiencing our unusually wintry autumn here for the last 10 days. In my company, she also experienced a number of the country's cafés. We both agree the most outstanding was a place called Licorice in the middle of almost nowhere - well Motuoapa, actually, on State Highway One about 9 kilometres north of Turangi at the southeast corner of Lake Taupo.

We were driving north in the pouring rain, hungry for a bite to eat but there was nothing in Turangi that inspired us to get out of the car. Slowing down for the 70kmph speed limit in Motuoapa, the food cabinets espied through the plate glass windows of Licorice caught our eye.

All the food in the cabinet looked fresh and delicious but on this freezing cold day, it was the soup on the blackboard menu that took our fancy.

The thick vegetable soup that I ordered was delicious while Helen raved about her mushroom and blue cheese broth. "I've never had that combination before," she said.

So yesterday, for Helen's last lunch, I made my own version of mushroom and blue cheese soup.

I promised her I'd post the recipe but l've already blogged the basic recipe before - to read it click here. However there were some slight differences. I used three spring onions as a substitute for an onion and white cultivated mushrooms only while the stock was made from powdered chicken stock and later (when I remembered I had it) I added about half a teaspoon of porcini powder too. After the soup had been blended, I added half a chopped up wedge of creamy blue and stirred it in until melted.  It was accompanied with oven-reheated ciabatta bread.

Last night Neil and I tucked into the leftovers and found the soup was the perfect match for a trio of leftover Pinot Gris. The notes below were made when the wines were opened in the weekend and scores awarded without food.

Huntaway Gisborne Pinot Gris 2008 - gently perfumed with citrus, pear and a hint of melon. Gentle in its attack with bright juicy flavours of luscious stonefruit and ripe pear with a hint of rose petal and a tingle of zesty spices. 13% alc. $22.95. 4 stars.

Sileni Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2008 - savoury with a boiled lolly nuance to the fairly neutral, earthy aroma that becomes a little mushroomy. That mushroom note carries though to the spicy palate that has upfront acid and zest. There's a mid-palate mealy richness and an underlying creaminess that melds into the baked apple and pear-like fruit with a ginger-like tingle on the finish. Some oak was used in the making of this wine. 14% alc. $20. 3.5 stars.

Boreham Wood Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008 - pears on the nose with a subtle nuance of cultivated white mushroom and a hint of flower musk. Quite zesty to the taste with plenty of spiced green apple fruit over a steely backbone with a touch of sweetness of the finish. It's a little different from many New Zealand Pinot Gris as it is quite high toned and phenolic and gives an impression of a 'grigio' (Italian) style. Despite my initial rating, this wine becomes more and more interesting with time. 13.5% alc. $30. 3 stars.

The Huntaway was the best match to the Sunday night roasted loin of pork with a prune and bacon stuffing. On Monday the wines were served alongside a mildly spiced 'Creamy Thai Chicken' with the base sauce from a masterfoods packet - oh dear, for all the wines the flavourings in this meal were a definite mismatch.

However the Mushroom and Blue Cheese Soup was simply super with all three of these quite distinctively different Pinot Gris.  Pinot Gris and Mushrooms - somehow it always seems to work.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 13th 2009

That distinctive catty Sauvignon Blanc aroma - is it really news?

Back in the mid-1980's, British wine writer Oz Clarke was so taken with the exuberant aroma of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc he uttered what was to become a very famous phrase. "Like cats pee on a gooseberry bush," he exclaimed.

Since then, "cats pee" has long been used as a description for the distinctive aroma of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and one wine company, Coopers Creek, branded the expression for a Sauvignon Blanc in their Glamour Puss series of wines.

But now, twenty something years later, the "cats pees" scent is official - just take a look at the headlines coming through the news feeds the last couple of days.

" WINE experts have identified a unique and alarming aroma in New Zealand's popular sauvignon blancs."

" Kiwi wine tastes like cat's pee."

" CAT'S pee and sweaty passionfruit are hardly flavours to make your mouth water but it seems Kiwis can't get enough of them. These are the core aromas of New Zealand's world-leading sauvignon blanc, according to a six-year study by a team of lucky wine scientists."

Even the television channels picked up on it. TV3 put on a good parody (click here).

But is this news?  Those of us who are Sauvignon Blanc drinkers don't think so.   We've known about it for ages. When a wine has it, it is right there in the initial sniff.

So why did it take scientists so long to come to conclude that some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc indeed smells like cats pee?  Even more extraordinary is that it took them six years to make this remarkable discovery at a cost of more than $12m (!!!!!).  Gosh, how many bottles of Sauvignon Blanc would that amount of money buy.

They also concluded that Martinborough savvies produce the most dominant cats pee characters - that could be true because six South Island savvies that we opened last night were shy of the distinctive and captivating scent.

Winegrowers of Ara Pathway Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - lemon is the upfront aroma with lime, herbs and tomato stalk coming into play.

Sileni 'The Straits' Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - slightly earthy aromas with subtle hints of capsicum and asparagus mixed with ripe fruit and hints of melon.

Two Tracks Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - grapefruit and honey intermingle on the nose with sweeter orange zest and summer herbs.

Boundary Vineyards Rapaura Road Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - seems to be a riper style with citrus, hints of nectarine and tropical nuances of passionfruit, coconut and lime.

Jackson Estate 'Stich' Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - quite toasty on the nose for Sauvignon Blanc with passionfruit skin aromas to the fore.

Muddy Water Growers Series Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - hard to pick as SB from the scent with aromas of vanilla, funky wild yeast, stonefruit and citrus.

If you are looking for the exuberant catty scent - I'd head in the Saint Clair or Astrolabe direction.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 11th 2009

Neil's Pork with Pinot Gris

This recipe has been mentioned before but I'm reiterating it here so it can be indexed for easy reference in the future. It's a derivation of several recipes, including this Pork with Fennel and Pear recipe served with Pinot Gris in February 2007. 

This latest evolution is what I now call "Neil's Pork".   Neil used this exact recipe to accompany Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2007, a Wine of the Week in January this year. While gorgeous with Gewurz, it was also delicious with this week's Wine of the Week, the Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008 and its tasting partner, Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Gris 2002.

It's so simple to make all you need is the ingredients on hand. We use tangelo, but a juicy orange would be a suitable substitute.

With a mortar and pestle, grind about 1 teaspoon each of fennel and cumin seeds and rub about 1/4 of the finest portion into two small or one large pork fillet that has already been rubbed with a good quality olive oil.

Brown the fillets in a saute pan then place them in a baking paper-lined baking dish together with the juice and zest of two tangelos and the remainder of the crushed and perhaps 'not so crushed' seeds.

Loosely close the paper around the fillets and pop them into the oven to bake for 25 minutes at 170 degrees C.

Use the pan drippings to prepare vegetables - zucchini sliced lengthwise, or fingers of carrots, before popping them into another dish to cook alongside the pork in the oven.

When the beeper goes off to say the pork has been in the oven long enough, remove the meat and rest.

Pour the accumulated meat juices into the original pan and heat to reduce. Once reduced to your liking, add a knob of butter to gloss it up.

Slice the pork for serving then pour the juices on top. This dish can be an absolute triumph - tender, juicy and just so beautifully flavoursome with the cumin, fennel and tangelo infused perfectly.

It's yummy served on top of a well-whipped kumara and potato mash.

Check out this week's Wine of the Week review of the Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008 here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 10th 2009

Autumn touring and tasting

Driving around the countryside this early May, it's been interesting to see what's happening in the vineyards. At the beginning of the month most of the Auckland vineyards had been harvested - just a few rows of late ripening reds to make the most of the warmth of the erratically seen autumn sun. Today those vineyards had been totally stripped of berries -autumn-at-huka.jpg (64027 bytes) just the leaves are still hanging but are turning yellow and falling off the vines.

It was a similar leafy situation in Taupo at the Huka Falls Vineyard - Neil and I lunched there in February some readers may recall (link here). Well, I passed through Taupo on Friday so couldn't resist a detour to the vineyard for a look-see on the way past. Yes the leaves had turned yellow and had almost all fallen off the vines - but unexpectedly, grapes were still hanging there. The vines were not netted and it made me wonder if there was going to be a 'Huka Block' Pinot Noir made this year.

Attended my weekly Wednesday tasting before my couple of nights away. The theme was 'All Brand New (to a Wednesday night tasting)' and amongst the line-up were two wine from '36 Bottles', a brand I've never heard of before. Now this is not an easy brand to Google - the results are wide and varied and mostly refer to packaging or prices on a wine list. Two wines were tasted - a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris. The latter, particularly, was well received by the tasters - a special achievement for a Wednesday tasting Pinot Gris.

Other highlights were the apple dominated Mount Edward 'The Drumlin' Riesling 2008 from Central Otago, Te Mata Awatea Cabernet Merlot 2007 from Hawkes Bay and Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2005 from South Australia. St Henri is an iconic wine in its own right, yet is often in the shadow of more sought after Penfolds names.

Tasting notes, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 7th 2009

Two Viogniers from two distinctly different southern places

There is a company called Planet Wine ( that is now importing South African wines into New Zealand. There is a market for South African wines here but it is a niche market. However it's a market worth discovering for those who have not tried the wines.  Martin Cahnbley started Planet Wine in 2002 and now he's doing more aggressive marketing, including tastings and sending samples of his wines.  Among the three that arrived a few weeks ago was a Viognier - yes South Africa, just like new Zealand, is foraying into new varieties too.  In my Nelson Focus last month, there was a sole viognier, which just did not fit into any tastings.  Why not pit the two together, I thought.  So this week the wines were opened and tasted blind. They were

 Two southern Viogniers

Pax Verbatim 'Rockwater Fountain' Viognier 2008 from Stellenbosch , South Africa
Pale gold colour. Smoky and nutty with the merest hint of lanolin on the nose and a wheat grain nuance, this pale gold coloured wine is a rich, warm style with perhaps a hint of oak adding to its complexity. The palate is spicy, savoury and just a little chardonnay-like with its full-bodied richness and mealiness, there's a green grape fruitiness and the finish is lifted and aromatic with a spicy zing. A powerful wine and nice to drink. 14.5% alcohol. Screwcap closure. $29.

Waimea Nelson Viognier 2008 - South Island, New Zealand
Showing a little more gold to the colour, the aromas are quite neutral - nutty and bready with a delicate hint of apricot. However the palate is so much more flavoursome that the nose would suggest. Although there is a bready / yeasty undercurrent, the wine is fresh and bright, light in its attack with a dancing texture and a citrussy finish, there's a hint of grassy herb pushing through - though very subtle. Perhaps of the two, it is more evocative of the Viognier grape. 14% alcohol. Screwcap closure. $22.

A Viognier Workshop I attended a few years ago implied that Viogner should have the aromatics of Riesling, the body of Chardonnay & spiciness of a Gewurztraminer. While both these wines are not particularly aromatic, the body and spice are there.

I enjoyed both these wines and would dish out 4 star ratings - but the freshness of the Waimea on the day gave it the edge. They have many similarities that obviously come from the grape and the winemaking - both had minimal use of oak.

They may come from distinctly different southern places, but they are not different enough to know how distinctly far apart those places are.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 6th 2009

Another Bollinger rarity

2003 was an unusual year in Champagne. Heavy snow heralded the arrival of spring, budburst was late, then on April 11th an unseasonal frost devastated those new beginnings and the vines had to start again. Growth was uneven and flowering was late, so it was heartbreak when thunderstorms and hail in June again devastated much of the new seasons growth. The rain stopped and the heat set in and the resulting low yields had to persevere a late summer drought. It was the year of the 'heatwave' in France and New Zealand's wine producers who used to exhibit at VinExpo may remember it because the airconditioning in their pavilion failed to work. Like the exhibitors, the grapevines sweltered too. The end result in the Champagne vineyards was the earliest harvest since 1822 with yields down 70 to 80% on what was originally anticipated. Generally the grapes had higher sugars and lower acid levels than normal. However, astute producers did not write the vintage off. In fact after the second crop fruit produced higher acid levels - and acidity is exactly what Champagne grapes need. Now the single vintage 2003 cuvees from that astonishing year are starting to be released.boll2003.jpg (44940 bytes)

I recently tasted the '2003 by Bollinger' and it is obvious they have a very special wine. It's light yellow gold in colour with a persistent bead. Floral aromas overlie the delicate yeasty perfume then rich malty flavours fill the mouth with a nougat sweetness - it seems sweet and lush but the underlying acid makes it presence felt on the finish with a drying 'zing' and the lasting aftertaste hints of lemon meringue.

"Not a long term prospect" say many, including others at the table I was sitting at for the lunch and tasting. I disagree. You just have to taste it and savour it. If you let that seam of acidity express itself, you'll see what I mean. Just 300 bottles made it into New Zealand. How much does it cost? Beautifully presented in a collector's box, a mere snip at NZ$160 a bottle, I believe. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 5th 2009

It's Bolly Darling, but not as we know it

When the new CEO of Bollinger, Jerome Philipon, came to New Zealand the other week, Bollinger's New Zealand agents, Negociants, invited a few retailers, restaurateurs and writers to meet him. I decided to accept the invitation. Little did I know of some of the treats that would be in store. Not only a Frenchman with 'zee sexy accent', but beautiful wine. Yes, "it's Bolly darling", and the non vintage Special Cuvée is a favourite amongst kiwi Champagne drinkers, but among the lineup was a wine that is so rare that I didn't know it existed. It is a wine that is held in reverence by Champagne aficionados, a wine that few people get to try.

Bolly VV - photo Sue CourtneyJust six bottles of Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises Blancs de Noirs 1999 came into New Zealand and one of the bottles was opened at the luncheon I attended and another was opened at a dinner function the same evening.

What makes this wine so rare is its vineyard sources - two small wall-surrounded vineyards, one right opposite the Bollinger cellars in Ay. They are described on the Bollinger website as being allowed to grow "in leafy disarray". These vineyards are planted entirely with Pinot Noir and the vines are on their own roots. That itself is remarkable in a land that was infested with the destructive phylloxera louse in the 1860's. The French had to bow to the Americans and acknowledge that grafting the vines on to Phylloxera-resistant American rootstock would save the vineyards from devastation. Yet remarkably these Pinot Noir vineyards were not touched and the low yielding vines supply the fruit for the Vieilles Vignes wine.

But even not knowing the story (as I didn't when the wine was poured), you know the wine is something special when you taste it. I tasted this after the Bollinger RD 1997, which is rich, malty and profoundly savoury, even a little salty. In comparison, the Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises Blancs de Noirs 1999 is a light straw colour with a floral overtone to the slightly savoury, yeasty aroma and a light dancing texture with a breath-drawing tingle from the spritz on the tongue. Fruit sweetness softens the finish and an intrinsic Pinot Noir savouriness emerges. There's a hint of truffle and the finish becomes quite smoky as the flavours linger in the mouth. A beautiful delicate wine with underlying power and depth.  A priceless Bollinger experience.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 4th 2009

Wine and food Matching - New Zealand style

It's New Zealand wine and food month in Chicago this month with 30 of Chicago's restaurants serving New Zealand wines by the glass, as flights of various varietals or as special menu pairings. There'll also be complete New Zealand wine dinners for a more expansive experience. And it won't just be Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago Pinot Noir - there'll be more regions and more varietals to choose from.
Check out for a list of participating Chicago eateries and the labels of the almost 100 New Zealand wineries that are participating. There are even some from Auckland!

Here at my home in Auckland, I've been doing my own wine and food matching and this week I came up with an absolutely sublime match - Goldridge Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 paired with scallops (roe intact, as you do in NZ) sizzled with ginger and finished with a coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaf reduction. Mind you Goldridge supplied plenty of inspiration with indulgent food matches of the back labels of their wines.
Click here to read the Wine of the Week review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 1st 2009

Cuisine Top 10 Chardonnays minus 1

It was Chardonnay heaven for Chardonnay lovers with the Cuisine Top 10 Chardonnay tasting the other night. All were rated five stars only some of us were scratching our heads at the ranking from 1 to 10 of the Top 10 wines. I had no dispute with the No. 1 rated Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2007 from Hawkes Bay, or the number 2 rated Vidal Reserve Chardonnay 2006 from Hawkes Bay, however the number 10 rated wine, the Black Barn Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2007 wine was my third overall preference while Selaks The Favourite Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007, rated No. 8, was best value for money. Quite interesting, I thought, that the Top 10 wines all came from Hawkes Bay.

Of course nothing is ever that easy at First Glass and there were couple of ring-ins, as only nine of the Cuisine Top 10 were tasted.  The omitted wine was Nobilo Regional Collection Chardonnay - its five star rating evidently a surprise to even the Nobilo team.

Two of the store's best sellers over the past few months were thrown into the blind tasting - the Seifried Barrique Ferment Chardonnay 2006 from Nelson and the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 11 Chardonnay 2007 from Marlborough. And it was these two wines that 80% of the tasters on the night chose as the favourites.  I wasn't one of that 80% as I picked the Keltern.  As usual notes are on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here to read them.

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