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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: June 2010
Jun 30th: Syrah from the heart
Jun 29th: Running with Ducks
Jun 27th: Oz is in the room - Wine Options and Wednesday Tasting Redux
Jun 25th: The taste of summer in winter
Jun 24th: Rugby and Wine do mix - off the field
Jun 20th: WOTW: Kumeu River Chardonnay and Wednesday Update
Jun 10th: WOTW: Pinot Noir and Pate
Jun 7th: Wine Competition Update plus the Wednesday Tasting
Jun 6th: Auckland's Best Restaurants according to ....
Jun 2nd: John Hill, Waimea, Wild Earth and Moana
Jun 1st: Review: Crowded House
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 30th 2010

Syrah from the Heart

Yesterday I reviewed the Runner Duck Red 2007 from Matakana. Runner Duck Estate also produces Syrah and because their winemaker is Shayne Cox, who has his own label, Corazon, I thought it would be interesting to compare the Corazon and Runner Duck syrahs together.

Runner Duck Syrah 2007 ($39) is made from Matakana fruit off the tiny Runner Duck Estate vineyard and 2007 was the first harvest. Deep yet bright in colour, it has a strong peppery scent infused with smoky bacon. First impression is of an earthy savoury wine with mid palate sweetness, dark savoury oak and grippy tannins that part like a curtain to reveal a vinous generosity and pretty floral traits with hints of strawberry and cherry, and a finish that is rich and deep. It's a much bigger wine than I expected and the use of both French (75%) and American oak (35%), in which it spent 20 months, is very appealing.   Closed with a Diam cork, it has 13.5% alcohol.

Corazon Single Vineyard Syrah 2008 ($24.90) is made from Hawkes Bay fruit. It's a lovely rich red colour with a peppery scent infused with sweet vanillin oak. The flavours are spicy with red fruits, perhaps strawberry, with a bit of a citrus zing. One of those distinctly floral Syrahs - rose petals and violet combine with liquorice and spice.  The more medium-bodied of the two, it spent 14 months in oak - there's some American oak in here, I'm sure. It's closed with a Diam cork and has 12.8% alcohol.

Shayne writes on the back label of his wine, "Syrah loves air, decant before drinking." I didn't do this as the wines were poured directly after opening and were tasted blind. When retasting this wine the following night, it had opened up beautifully. In a social situation I'd absolutely heed Shayne's advice.

Shayne makes wine from his West Auckland winery for many boutique producers who have no winemaking facilities themselves. I'll be heading out to his winery soon to get the lowdown on all the wines he makes but his pride and joy is his own Corazon label. It's a Spanish word that he discovered when he worked in Chile. It means 'from the heart'.  Check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 29th 2010

Running with Ducks

The drought has been well and truly broken and here in Auckland it's weather for the ducks. I've been learning a little about ducks recently, the big revelation being that there's a breed of duck called the Indian Runner. It's a duck that stands erect, like a penguin for immediate comparison. It walks, rather than waddles, and is a good runner too. They are prolific egg layers and drop their eggs wherever they are at the time. It's the only duck in New Zealand bred exclusively for egg laying.

When Clyde and Farida Cooper bought a vineyard in Duck Creek Road in Warkworth, they decided to name it Runner Duck. The name was not only for their address, but also because they are from India and because in their former career in the courier / air cargo business, they were runners.

They make two wines, a Blended red and a Syrah.

Runner Duck Matakana Red 2007 is this week's Wine of the Week. Check it out and the story behind the Runner Duck brand by clicking here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 27th 2010

Oz is in the room - Wine Options and Wednesday Tasting Redux

Tinman OzI walked into the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland this afternoon to be greeted by the face of Oz Clarke. "What's Oz Clarke doing here," I thought. "And why is he facing the door and not the stage?"

It was the First Glass Wine Options and because I wasn't competing, I arrived at the venue mid to late afternoon and the room was buzzing.

It didn't take long to find there was not just one Oz Clarke, but four. They were a team, the Wizards of Oz. There was Dorothy Oz, Scarecrow Oz, Cowardly Oz and Tin Man Oz.

Screcrow OzAt the end of the competition they were crowned winners, winning best costume and best team name. Clever things, these Oz's (er, actually they were some of the crew from Villa Maria). But perhaps it was not the prize that they most wanted, that of Wine Options Champions.

The competition went down to the wire and after the eight competition wines two teams were tied. There was a sudden death tasting and last year's runners-up had to settle for that place again.

2009-costume.jpg (18350 bytes)Last year's best costume winners (pictured) put their effort into competing this year and left the costumes behind. It worked because they were the big big winners on the day. Martin Pickering, Robyn Jones, James Porter and Nick Jones from Mudbrick Vineyard on Waiheke Island were crowned the Wine Options Champions and won the Louis Roederer Trophy for Best Trade Team as well.

Picture of the winners (including more of the Oz's), team scores, wines tasted, etc., can be viewed on the First Glass website.

Last Wednesday night's First Glass tasting, being the last Wednesday before today's big event, was a "fun" wine options evening and some testing wines were served. Two that really took my fancy on the night were older European wines.

One was Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer 2005, from Alsace. I wouldn't want to be holding this in my cellar for much longer but it's beautiful drinking now with a gorgeous slippery texture, a medium sweet flavours, distinctive spice and rose petals and additional complexity from bottle age.

The other was Coto de Hayas Reserva 2004 Garnacha, from Spain with a gentle mellow character that comes with bottle age. This is the type of wine I really enjoy taking time over - inhaling the deeply vinous aromas while letting the fruit and savoury flavours permeate the palate. A beautiful glass of wine.

These and my other notes from the tasting of 12 wines can be found, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 25th 2010

The taste of summer in winter

Here, try this, said Andrew the other day when I was in at First Glass Wines and Spirits. I thought he was handing me a glass of water, the liquid was so pale. But you wouldn't want water to smell like this. Fresh and fruity though not overpowering on the nose, this was oily in texture and fresh and fruity in flavour. With ripe apple and lime, the crisp acidity was balanced by the softness of the texture and sweet fruit expanding to pineapple on the finish. It was like the burst of flavour you get when biting into a pellet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
It was Sea Level Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($15.99).

That night I arrived home to find another newly released 2010 Sauv. We were meeting up with the sisters for dinner and cards on Saturday night, so this came along too, but first a quick stop at the supermarket for 'nibbles'. I splashed out on SB-friendly food - in particular feta, sun-dried tomatoes and Thai Coriander Pesto with ginger and lime - simply perfect - even a creamy blue had the piquancy and creaminess to stand up to this wine.
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a gorgeous fresh sauv with a bright fruity aroma and oily textured flavours brimming with tropical fruit, pineapple, tangelo and tangy summer herbs. It has a juicy richness and unmistakable pungency as it lingers. Several vineyard sites, both in the Awatere and the Wairau, provide the fruit for the delicious tangy wine. Price will vary, depending on promotion. You may be able to find it as low as $13.99.

Ah, the taste of summer in winter. We’ve just passed the midwinter solstice and it's going to get colder before it gets warmer. Nothing like a fresh young Sauv to brighten up the palate on a dismally grey day.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 24th 2010

Rugby and wine do mix - off the field

An unusual looking package arrived at my doorstep this morning. Packages of wine arrive all the time, but this was different. It was a big squared-shaped box, but it was light and whatever was inside was loose because when I shook it, it kind of thumped and rustled. I opened it with anticipation, the kind of excitement a child has at a birthday party, mixed with a more mature trepidation of what the contents would mean.

Off came the plain brown paper wrapping to reveal a black box with a silver and black ribbon on the lid. One of those American-styled present boxes that we see on television all the time with the ribbon only on the lid. Inside was a mass of green coloured tissue paper that concealed - wait for it - a rugby ball.

A rugby ball!

Yes. A rugby ball. But not just any rugby ball. It was an official replica ball for the Rugby World Cup 2011 that's being held in New Zealand next year.

The news was twofold. First, Pernod Ricard is rebranding all its Montana Wines products to Brancott Estate from the 2010 vintage, although the Montana name will still be prominent on the 'classic' level wines. But it will be gone from the Reserve, the Living Land Series, the Terroir Series, the Showcase Series and the Letter Series.

Secondly, Brancott Estate will be the first New Zealand based official sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2011. Ah, that's why I received a rugby ball. 

Now I'm looking for a worthy cause to donate the ball to. Any suggestions, anyone.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 20th 2010

WOTW: Kumeu River Chardonnay and Wednesday Update

One of the highlights of the year is the annual release of the Kumeu River Chardonnays and I hope that I will get invited to the winewriters lunch and, if I do, that the date won't clash.  This year, when the invitation arrived, my heart dropped - the date was the same as one I'd made for the MG Car Club's Midweek Gallivant. As organiser of the MGMG, what could I do? The light bulb switches on. I'll make the destination somewhere close to Kumeu River and appoint someone else to manage the run. So I organised a visit to the Pioneer Museum at nearby Helensville and lunch for the gallivanters at the historic railway station cafe. With someone else in charge of the run, I was able to gallivant away to the important wine tasting event, which I mentioned briefly on my May 1st blog.

But an opportunity to taste the new release 2008 Chardonnay again arose when Michael Brajkovich MW, winemaker for Kumeu River, hosted a tasting on a Wednesday night at First Glass.  What a joy to taste these delicious wines again - and in the space of six weeks they seemed to have opened up ever so slightly - or perhaps it was the gorgeous Zerutti tasting glasses that were used. Melba Brajkovich came along to the tasting too and what a joy it was to hear her talk of the vineyard's history and how she met her husband, Maté.

The tasting notes of the 2008 are included in the Wednesday Roundup for June 9th along with some European reds.

This week's Wine of the Week is Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 - click here to read the review - the recipe for Melba's delicious potatoes is included too.

Last Wednesday was a tasting themed Battle of the Sexes. Wines were tasted in pairs, one made by a female winemaker and one made by a male.   Before the labels were revealed the tasters voted on their favourite. The result was a tie - 3 to the gals, 3 to the guys. Click out those tasting nots in the Wednesday Roundup for June 16th.  

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 10th 2010

WOTW: Pinot Noir and Pate

Came across a new brand of pate in the supermarket, recently - new to me anyway.   Made by Kato Foods, which incidentally was started by Russell Cowley who just happens to be the brother of Te Mata Estate's brilliant winemaker Peter Cowley, this is called a 'pop-out' pate.  The creamy pate with its aspic topping is popped out of the packaging and placed on a plate so it looks perfect and I have to say, with its ultra smooth, creamy texture and delicious flavour, it tastes near perfect too. 

After taking a packet to a friend's to try out, I indulged in another packet for a pre-dinner snack with this week's Wine of the Week, Mt Hector Pinot Noir 2009.   This Wairarapa wine is in the running for best value red of the year half way through 2010.  It has a recommended retail of $16.99 but evidently can go as low as $12.99 on special.  Click here to read the review.  The Pinot Noir and pate was an exciting combo, both in mouthfeel and taste.

Jaison at Kerr Farm Vineyard says pate goes really well with Pinotage too, particularly the Kerr Farm P 06 Pinotage 2006.  I can believe that. He's posted a recipe for Chicken Liver, Red Wine and Walnut pate on his blog. It' s certainly more economical to make your own so check out Jaison's recipe here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 7th 2010

Wine Competition Update plus the Wednesday Tasting

Some of my readers may be over wine shows but wine shows are so established within the New Zealand wine scene they are here to stay. Winning a medal in a wine show can be an important marketing tool for a winery and the wineries obviously know this, otherwise they wouldn't be entering.  But is the timing of the show an issue? Too many at the same time and the results start to become blurry. Perhaps that is why Liquorland has changed the judging of their competition from late August to early May. They've also changed the name - previously the Liquorland Top 100, it is now the Liquorland International Wine Competition.

Around 1420 wines were entered in the 2010 Liquorland International Wine Competition with 81 gold, 180 silver and 559 bronze medals awarded. Of the gold medals, 60 were from New Zealand and 19 were from Australia while France and Italy received one gold each. It is not stated how many wines from each country were entered, some classes are split for judging by country of origin, eg Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz/Syrah, while other classes have New Zealand and Australian wines judged together, eg Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Noir. All the gold medal results are available at

Also judged recently was the International Chardonnay Challenge in Gisborne. A disappointing result for New Zealand, claiming only four of the 18 gold medals awarded - and one of those was for a bubbly. The gold medal winners were Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blancs 2002, Mount Riley Seventeen Valley Chardonnay 2009, Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2008 and Waimata Wines Cognoscenti Gisborne Chardonnay 2009. Full results can be found on

My Gold Medal Winning New Zealand Wines page has now been updated with these latest results. Because this is the second Liquorland Competition within the 2009-2010 show season, the 2010 Liquorland winners are denoted with the code L2. You will find that only three wines won gold medals in both Liquorland shows in the 2009-2010 season. They are Saint Clair Block 18, Saint Clair Block 19 and Waipara Hills Soul of the South - all 2009 Sauv Blancs and are in fact the most awarded in the list with five gold medals each. Thirty-four NZ wines in the Liquorland show had never won a gold medal before, which means that 26 of the NZ wines had won a gold medal previously.

The four gold medal winners from the International Chardonnay Challenge have the identity code of 'C'. None of these wines had won a gold medal before.

Wednesday Tasting 

At the Wednesday tasting we tasted ten of the Liquorland gold medal winners. I have to say the Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 rates up there as one of New Zealand's best and not only are the gewurztraminers from this label beautiful to drink now, they also cellar magnificently. Perhaps one of New Zealand's most awarded gewuztraminers; it's hard to understand why it didn't pick up a five star, or even a four star rating in the Cuisine magazine aromatic tastings earlier in the year. I have my opinion of course - and that is it is not in the style the judges wanted to reward - but the judges at the NZ International, Air NZ Wine Awards, Easter Show and now the Liquorland International got it right.

Another humdinger wine is the West Brook Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2009. Like the triple trophy-winning 2007 vintage, this is made with about 1/3 of the   fruit coming from West Brook's home vineyard in Waimauku, Auckland, to supplement the Marlborough fruit. Like I said about the 2007, it is this Auckland fruit that gives the wine the 'x' factor. West Brook is going from strength to strength with their chardonnays. At around $18 retail, it is a veritable bargain too.

And to finish the whites, the glorious Forrest Estate Botrytised Riesling 2009 - nectar and dried tropical fruit with impeccable balance of sweetness and acidity.

Most of the reds, as to be expected from an international competition, were value-packed quaffers from Australia.
Click here to check out all my notes from the tasting.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 6th 2010

Auckland's Best Restaurants according to ....

Want to dine out in Auckland? Don't know where to go and don't care how much it costs. Then check out the 2010 list of Top 50 restaurants according to the May issue of Metro magazine. The Grove, in Auckland's CBD was given the accolade of No. 1 by Metro. I've eaten there and it was definitely fine food and I'm also pleased to see my favourites, Clooney and Soul, are there on the list.

Remember two years ago Euro missed out being featured in the Metro's list - a personal issue with the judges, perhaps. Well, it made a comeback in 2009 and retains its spot on the Top 50 this year.

Kermadec is a surprise omission in 2010 given that executive chef Peter Thornley is now in charge. Like Euro, Kermadec was dropped in 2008 and won its position back in 2009 but is not there in 2010. Bracu, where Thornley was prior to Kermadec, also loses its spot on the list as does Sails, The Jervois Steakhouse and Tribeca.

It should also be noted that The French Café, a perennial top restaurant in anyone's list, was the winner of the Lewisham Awards Best Restaurant Food this year heading off finalists Clooney, Meredith's and The Grove.

Interestingly, Metro no longer maintains its website so here's a comparison between 2009 and 2010, with newcomers in 2010 highlighted in bold. I've also included the Auckland restaurants from the Cuisine Restaurant of the Year awards last year.

A 'y' in the column means it featured on the list of the heading line. The names in bolded black are first timers on the Metro list in 2010 - the Best New accolade goes to SidArt, the new restaurant of noted chef Sid Sahrawat who was previously incumbent at The Grove. 

Restaurant Metro 2009 Cuisine 2009 Metro 2010
Andiamo y    
Antoine's Restaurant y   y
Bowz Teppan Dining     y
Bowmans y    
Bracu y    
Cable Bay y   y
C.A.C. y    
Casita Miro     y
Chow y    
Cibo y y y
Clooney y y y
Coco's Cantina     y
Delicious y y y
dine by Peter Gordon y y y
Eight. Two Restaurant     y
Ella Cafe & Lounge     y
Euro Restaurant & Bar y   y
Grand Harbour Chinese Restaurant y   y
Java Room y   y
Kermadec y    
Kitchen y    
Kura Japanese Sake Bar y   y
La Cigale     y
Merediths (Metro top 2009) y y y
Mollies Restaurant y   y
Molten Restaurant y y y
Mondial Cafe     y
Monsoon Poon     y
The Mulberry     y
Non Solo Pizza y   y
Number 5 Restaurant y   y
O'Connell Street Bistro y y y
One Tree Grill Restaurant & Bar y   y
Palm Beach Clubhouse y    
Pastis y   y
Prego Restaurant y y y
Prime Bistro y   y
Pure Restaurant y y y
Q Restaurant and Bar     y
Ponsonby Road Bistro     y
Rice y    
Rocco Restaurant y y y
Sake Bar 601 y   y
Sails y    
Satya South Indian Cafe y   y
SidArt (Best New 2009)     y
Soto Japanese Garden Restaurant y   y
Soul Bar & Bistro y y y
SPQR y y y
Tabou Bar and Bistro y   y
Toto y   y
Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant y   y
The Engine Room y   y
The French Cafe y y y
The Grove (Metro top 2010) y y y
The Jervois Steak House y    
Thymes Tables y    
Tribeca y    
Two Fifteen Bar and Bistro y   y
VBG y    
Vinnies Restaurant y y y
White     y
Wine Chambers Restaurant     y
Winehot y   y

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 2nd 2010

John Hill, Waimea, Wild Earth and Moana

Driving back from one car club gig and making plans for the next one, map on lap, the focus on the job is interrupted when Sue exclaims, "Look, a vineyard".
We're not in the South Island but in the backblocks of greater Auckland, close to Hunua.
At John Hill EstateThe vineyard is John Hill Estate, named for John Hill Road, which is named after John Hill, the first European settler in the area. He arrived there with wife and nine children in 1858.
We drive in the gate, park the car adjacent to the still netted Syrah vines, wander into the tasting room and are greeted enthusiastically. We find the cellar door opened on March 1st 2010, so it's all very new.
The chilled John Hill Estate Syrah Rose 2008 smells of strawberries and tastes dry and spicy with hints of cherry, an earthy finish and a light peppery aftertaste. Coming up to two years of age yet still fresh. $20.
The medium-bodied John Hill Estate Syrah 2008 has a soft aroma with hints of vanillin oak and tastes dry with a spicy disposition, red fruit and a distinct peppery finish. Just 12.5% alcohol and quite different from the higher alcohol blockbusters. $20.
John Hill Estate Cabernet Franc Merlot 2008 is a lighter medium-bodied wine with hints of cigar box, red berry fruit, a touch of vanilla and cedar.  It's smooth textured with a warm finish.  I thought it would be quite easy to like if lighter reds are up one's alley. $20.
There's also John Hill Estate Pinot Gris 2009 - I bought a bottle and now I've written it up as my Wine of the Week - click here to read the review.

Last week's Wine of the Week is Waimea Estate Syrah 2008 from Nelson. Click here to read the review.

The previous Wine of the Week is Wild Earth Pinot Noir 2008 from Central Otago.  An excellent follow-on to the stunning 2007 vintage. Click here to read this review.

Prior to that was Moana Park Vineyard Selection Dartmoor Valley Viogner 2009.   It inspired me to get all poetic - acrostically so. Click here to read the review.

The Wednesday tastings continued throughout May and all of my notes can be accessed on the May 2010 page of the Wednesday Roundup. The themes were 

  • Peter Lehmann Wines with Malcolm Stopp - my two favourite wines were The Mentor Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and the Stonewell Shiraz 2005
  • Wines with a loosely geographic theme - I rather liked the Cape Mentelle Margaret River Zinfandel 2005.
  • Wines with a person's name on the label - tonight Julicher 99 Rows Pinot Noir 2009 really impressed and Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 2008 was outstanding.
  • Wines with a religious theme - well Wild Earth Point Noir 2008 was included as a 'ring-in' and of course, after enjoying a bottle at home this went on to become a Wine of the Week.  But of the religious theme wines it was Chapel Hill 'The Parson's Nose McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 that got the notation 'simply delicious', because it was.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 1st 2010

Review: Crowded House

If this was a music blog, this would no doubt be a review of the iconic band formed on the coat tails of the even more iconic, famous in the 70s, Split Enz - the Crowded House that reformed in 2008 and is releasing their album Intriguer in Twenty Ten. But this is a wine blog and it's a review of wine branded Crowded House. I find it rather intriguing to find this catchy name on a wine - a bit of a cheek, perhaps. Brand owner, Catalina Sounds, even describes the wines as cheeky. The under $20 price tag ensures that they are.  crowdedh.jpg (16115 bytes)

Crowded House Pinot Noir 2009 is a cheeky blend of pinot noir sourced from Marlborough, Nelson and Central Otago. With a colour of rich garnet red, this is an opulent, juicy, succulent-smelling Pinot brimming with black cherry and savoury oak. Fruity and generous to the taste with black cherries, spice, soft rounded tannins and the essential earthy savouriness, it's sure to appeal. My rating: 4 stars. 

Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is pure Marlborough in a juicy, fruity, bright fresh style with abundant passionfruit tempered by cut grass and herbs and a typically pungent finish. I like the clear bottle with a hint of aqua to the hue that sets of the metallic features of the logo.  My rating: 3 stars.

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