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Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings

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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: December 2010
Dec 31st: Reflecting on 365 days just past
Dec 24th: Last Minute Christmas Preparations
Dec 23rd: Late Harvest Heaven
Dec 21st: I'm Dreaming of a Red Christmas
Dec 20th: New Zealand Riesing Challenge
Dec 18th: Delicious Riesling confusion
Dec 16th: Pizza and Pinot at the Beach
Dec 12th: Bubbles week: Part 7 - Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
Dec 10th: Bubbles week: Part 6 - Other Varietals
Dec 9th: Bubbles week: Part 5 - Morton Methode
Dec 8th: Bubbles week: Part 4 - Daniel and his Sabre
Dec 7th: Bubbles week: Part 3 - Jacob and Coconut Spaghetti
Dec 6th: Bubbles week: Part 2 - Virginie
Dec 5th: Bubbles week: Part 1 - Clayridge
Dec 1st: Sauvignon Blanc a winner with Oysters - and more
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 31st 2010

Reflecting on 365 days just past

As the sun sets on 2010 it's time to reflect on some of the highlights of the year. First of all, some of the best . . .

Best Chardonnay: Martinborough Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 - I loved this so much, it made Wine of the Week twice this year, firstly in May and again in October.

Best Viognier: Dry River Martinborough 'Dry River Estate' Viognier 2010. Simply ethereal and almost perfect. I scored it 19.5/20. That's at least a 98 point wine.
Moana Park Vineyard Selection Dartmoor Valley Viognier 2009. I bought a couple of bottles of this and one is going to be cracked tonight. Hopefully it is as good as it was back in May.

Best Riesling: Anything made by Pegasus Bay. I chose their second label, Main Divide Riesling 2009 for the Christmas Lunch and it was simply perfect at a great price too.

Best over-$30 Pinot Noir: Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 I think the judges at the Air NZ Wine Awards got it right by when they gave awarded this wine Champion Pinot Noir and Champion Wine of the Show. I actually rated this higher than Felton Road when I tasted it back in July.

Best under-$30 Pinot Noir: Martinborough Vineyards Te Tera Pinot Noir 2009

Best Wine from my Cellar: Mills Reef Reserve Chardonnay 2002 – this was a total surprise.  Super wine from a super vintage, it didn't seem anywhere near eight years of age.

Best wine from someone else's cellar: Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2004 - a surprisingly youthful looking wine, but perhaps no wonder as it came from winemaker Warwick Foley's cellar.  Lovely mouthfeel, almost nectar-like in its viscosity, with delicate spice and ginger.

Best Producer: Martinborough Vineyards - outstanding Pinot Noir across several tiers, from the opulent Marie Zelzie ($180 a bottle), to the main Martinborough Vineyards label, to Te Tera and the sidekicks Burnt Spur and Russian Jack, as well as top-form Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and a delicious little Rosé too.

Best Newcomer: Auburn Wines - a Riesling specialist based in Central Otago. The Auburn Twilight Riesling 2009 came pretty close to being a Wine of the Year.

Best Region: Auckland and Northland for their Chardonnays. Some outstanding drops - and when you compare the quality of the wines to the quantity made, it says it all really. Here are some of the names: Kumeu River, Villa Maria, West Brook, Waimarie Wines, Mahurangi River, Matakana Estate, Lochiel Estate, Estuary Vineyards, Marsden Estate . ..

The list of the 'bests' could go on - and the gaps will be filled in - but the sun is getting lower in the sky and there's not much time left to dwell on these things until next year.

All I can say in respect of the lows is that I am glad I am a wine drinker and not a wine producer. With the TV and radio blasting out adverts all week for 25% off all wine at one of the major supermarket chains, it seems the 'big boys' are totally taking over and if the small producers can't compete, what do they do?  One producer who know what to do is Ascension Vineyard in Matakana - virtually all the wine they make is sold at their restaurant or cellar door and at their special events, such as concerts. They are truly sustainable in that respect.

That reminds me - Ascension The Rotier Noble Semillon 2009 is truly in contention for Sweet Wine of the Year.  Ah, but there is Pegasus Bay Aria Riesling 2008 in the mix too.

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

Last Minute Christmas Preparations

I didn't have to go to work today so I starting getting organised for the Christmas Feast, after which last minute prezzy shopping took priority of place.

Our feast starts on Christmas Eve and my contribution to the meal is the starter, which tonight is Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and a chilled roasted red pepper, tomato and basil soup. This year's Saint Clair Wairau Reserve comes form the vineyard that usually produces the Pioneer Block 6 Oh! Block wine. In 2010 there's no wine labelled Pioneer Block 6, because the fruit from this vineyard was the best of the best, and so it takes pride of place in Saint Clair's very top wine.

suesham.jpg (19057 bytes)Tomorrow my contribution is the Christmas Ham and I'm going back to my childhood with a classic brown sugar, pineapple juice and mustard glaze, decorated with cloves, pineapple pieces and red glace cherries (the one pictured is one I did a few years ago). I love a medium style Riesling with ham and Main Divide Waipara Valley Riesling 2009 has been purchased especially for the occasion. It's that kind of all-round drinkable wine that everyone, even the people who say they only like 'dry' wines.

Chardonnay will also grace the table, methode traditionelle bubbles will no doubt be consumed and there's a little sweetie going into the refrigerator for desert.

Don't forget my special offer to readers of and Sue's Vinous Ramblings. As mentioned the other day, I'm going to be tasting the NZ Riesling Challenge wines next Wednesday or Thursday, so if you would like to join in the blind tasting, send me an email using the link near the top of the page, tell me how much you love my wine reviews and ramblings, and I'll let you know the details. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays . . . Sue

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 23rd 2010

Late Harvest Heaven

Late harvest style wine can be so rewarding to drink. Not quaffers in any way, simply wines to sip and savour, preferably with like-minded friends. Before dinner, after dinner, or even during dinner with the right kind of food.

Two were tasted at the last First Glass tasting of the year and I found it an interesting comparison.

Schoffit Cuvee Caroline Gewurztraminer 2008 (13.5% alc. Cork, $42) comes from Alsace, the home of the world's greatest Gewurztraminers. Tropical fruit, lychee, orange and rose water fill the heady bouquet of this golden coloured luscious drop, the deep colour attributed to a decent dollop of botrytis. The sweetness is balanced beautifully by exotic, Moroccan-like spices and a tickle of ginger. A butter toffee character fills the finish and with its low acidity, it is soft, rich, spicy and long. It is truly a decadent drop. aria.jpg (13083 bytes)

Pegasus Bay Aria Riesling 2008 – Waipara Valley (11% alc. Screwcap. $41) comes from the Waipara Valley in the South Island, from the vineyards of New Zealand's greatest Riesling producer. It is moderate to deep gold in its clear, gemmy colour. Honeysuckle and lime radiate from the bouquet and there's a delicate hint of spritz to the texture. Playing wine options when tasting this wine blind, it was this spritz that was the identifying signature of Pegasus Bay. Finely poised acidity balances the nectar-like sweetness to perfection. It's luscious, delicious and simply divine.

Aria is a late harvest style and punters know this because it says 'Late Picked Riesling' on the front label. But tasting these wines together just goes to show how sweet the Cuvée Caroline is, which does not indicate any sweetness level at all. Both have botrytis, but the huge difference, apart from the grape variety, is the acidity. Cuvée Caroline has low acidity so even without too much residual sugar, it would seem sweet. The Aria is a high acid, high sugar wine, and I'll repeat, simply divine. I'll find an excuse to drink a drop of this, this holiday season.

Click on this link for reviews of all 12 wines tasted on the night, plus the previous three weeks' reviews.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 21st 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Red Christmas

Even though Bordeaux-styled reds are languishing in the popularity stakes as Pinot Noir reigns supreme, it seemed like a good time to check out a few before Christmas. After all, there are some people who eat lamb on Christmas Day and like to accompany it with a stellar red.

What a line-up in the glasses – the colours so deep, dark and impenetrable with no hint that the ages ranged from one to four years. The other major surprise was that the wines were all very ripe and juicy, and all surprisingly good. These were the best.

7-bdx-reds.jpg (68398 bytes)

Coopers Creek SV Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, $26-$29, is the first cab off the Coopers Creek rank since 1998. But it was worth the wait, because this is a beauty. 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon from their Omahu Road vineyard in Hawkes Bay, aged in oak for 12 months, then matured a fewer 18 months in tank before botting, it's smoky, spicy and savoury with rich berry fruit, cedar and a touch of chicory. A concentrated, succulent drop with an earthy, dusty character, fine-textured tannins, a creamy veneer with leather and liquorice in the background and a long dry finish. Lovely. Refined. It this week's Wine of the Week and gets a rating of 5 stars.

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, $20.95, has sweet smoky oak, vanilla and cedar, luscious red and black fruit and chocolate with a rich, earthy depth and a hint of leather. The savouriness is tempered by juicy cherry and blackcurrant fruit and the texture is evocatively silky. 5 stars.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009, $22.99, is smoky and savoury with a hint of leather, succulent red and black currants, floral nuances, earth and chocolate, soft velvety tannins and a juicy finish. Very appealing. Organic too. 5 stars.

Pegasus Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, $28.95, has a rich, deep, succulent aroma brimming with smoky cedar, toffee, blackcurrant and the smoky, savoury, velvety-textured palate is underpinned with herbs and leather, and juicy plums, blackcurrants and cherries. 4.5 stars.

Ti Point Two Matakana Merlot Cabernet Franc 2009, $22.90, has juicy, succulent red fruit scents and a savoury palate with concentrated redcurrant fruit, tobacco and leather and firm tannins that have a little bit of grip. With underlying acidity, toasty oak, mocha and liquorice, it is dark, smoky and mysterious. 4 stars.

Hyperion 'the Titan' Matakana Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, $39, is deep, concentrated and intense with smoky, savoury, cedary aromas and flavours of blackcurrant, cedar, spice and rose petals, and underlying acidity adding brightness to the deep, meaty, almost gamey flavours. Velvety in structure with some vanillin sweetness coming through, it's interesting and tasty and leaves a sumptuous impression as it lasts in the mouth. The top wine from Hyperion from some of Matakana's oldest Cabernet vines, it is an excellent food match to lamb. 4 stars.

Coopers Creek 'The Clays' Huapai Malbec 2008, $26-$29, is a powerful, full-bodied, grippy, grunter with aromas of sappy oak, herbs, cassis and plums and rich currant and purple fruit with a juicy fruit sweetness balanced by an earthy, leathery savouriness with a hint of liquorice and the florals on the nose coming through on the finish. A wine that will benefit from decanting at this stage of its life. Malbec fetishists will love it. 4 stars.

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

New Zealand Riesling Challenge

riesling-challenge.jpg (30946 bytes)The box of wines arrived last week while we were away. A distinctive box with NZ Riesling Challenge Waipara 2010 emblazoned across it and the signatures of the participating winemakers. I'd heard about the Challenge, mentioning it here on my blog back in April. A terrific idea - take twelve winemakers, give them each four tonnes of Riesling grapes harvested from the same day off the same Waipara vineyard, and see what they can do with it. The result, twelve Riesling wines that vary in style - and now I have the wines which I'm looking forward to tasting, to pick out my favourites, blind of course, as that makes it more exciting.  There should be sense of terroir, as all the wines are off the same site, but the winemakers influence will come very much into play. As I catalogued the wines into my database, I noticed there was quite a variation in alcohol content and sweetness levels - the latter denoted on the back label by a point on a 'dry to sweet' scale.

So here are the names of the winemakers involved and the wine style and alcohol levels.

Duncan Forsyth (Mount Edward) 12.5 Dry
Paul Bourgeois (Spy Valley) 12.5 Dry
Ant McKenzie (Te Awa) 12.4 Medium-Dry
John Forrest (Forrest Estate) 12 Medium-Dry
Simon McGeorge (Waipara Hills) 12.8 Medium-Dry
Matt Dicey (Mount Difficulty) 12 Medium
Mike Brown (Golden Hills Estate) 12 Medium
Jules Taylor (Jules Taylor Wines) 11.5 Medium-Sweet
Matt Donaldson (Pegasus Bay) 10 Medium-Sweet
Patrick Materman (Brancott) 10.5 Medium-Sweet
Larry McKenna (Escarpment) 9 Sweet
Simon Waghorn (Astrolabe) 9.5 Sweet

Check out   and from there you can buy a case of these 12 wines.  Right now there's a discounted offer of $239.20 for the case for the month of December - and it looks like freight is included. Next year the price goes up to $299.

Now here's a special offer to readers of and Sue's Vinous Ramblings. I'm going to be tasting these wines in the next couple of weeks so if you would like to join in the blind tasting, send me an email using the link near the top of the page, tell me how much you love my wine reviews and ramblings, and I'll let you know the details. 

The winner was announced yesterday, which is disappointing in a way, because I'd would have like to have formed my own opinion, but four press releases were sent to me and now it is all over the wine news feeds.

"Who do you think won?" I quizzed Neil.
"Umm, perhaps Matt Donaldson," he pondered.
"Perhaps he did," I said.

Matt is the winemaker at Pegasus Bay and he crafts the Pegasus Bay and the Main Divide Rieslings. I don't think I mentioned it before on the blog, but the outstanding Main Divide Waipara Riesling 2009 was my Wine of the Week back in November. I bought another bottle last week to accompany my brown sugar and pineapple juice glazed ham, on Christmas Day. I imagine Matt's NZ Riesling Challenge Riesling will stand out in the line-up if he has left that smidgen of CO2 in there to create what has become his signature spritz.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 18th 2010

Delicious Riesling Confusion

Sitting on the outdoor chairs on the motel lawn, right on the sea front, the night before the rain started, we enjoyed a glass of Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling 2009 as we watched the birds flying home to their roosts in the pohutukawa trees, further north along the coast. Shags flying in formations, like rowing eights, skittering across the surface, at a breakneck pace. The Riesling was chilled to perfection on this breathless evening where the humidity needle was hovering around 99 per cent. A little breeze came in off the sea came in as we sat in the shade of a tree. With wine in hand, the scene was perfectly set.peg-bel-09.jpg (14685 bytes)

Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling 2009 (14% alc, $31.95) is rich, oily, full-bodied and weighty without ever losing delicacy and finesse. In natural light it's a creamy yellow gold colour with hints of lime curd and marmalade joining flowers and pollen on the bouquet, there's a suggestion of spritz to the texture and the flavours are bright and zesty with honeysuckle, beeswax, grapefruit and pineapple. And although the label says 'Dry', there's a portion of botrytis in this wine and the tropical fruit finish is juicy and sweet. The back label says it is fermented with indigenous yeasts.

We finished the Riesling the following night and were back in town the next day for our Wednesday night tasting date. A Riesling was poured. It seemed familiar, very familiar.

"I'm sure I had this last night and the night before," I said to anyone who would listen.
"What do you think it is?" asked the Wine King.
"Bel Canto 2009," I said.
peg-rr-08.jpg (14646 bytes)He shook his head because although it was similar, indeed very similar, it was not the same.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2008 (13% alc, $27.95) is a rich, oily, full-bodied style with a slight spritz to the texture. Indoors, under fluorescent light, it's a creamy yellow with a hint of lime to the hue. The bouquet and flavours offer honeysuckle, lime and grapefruit and a hint of botrytis comes through. All the time the fantastic acid balance keeps the honeyed sweetness in check. Fine and poised, with pineapple on the finish, it is a definite change in direction from the lighter, more spatlese styles of previous vintages of this label. Indeed, the back label says it was an extraordinary vintage and botrytis was indeed a factor.

With delicious wines like these, I don't mind being confused.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 16th 2010

Pizza and Pinot at the Beach

This week is the last week before school's out for summer, so we took advantage of the pre-Christmas 'quiet' to steal a few days at the beach. Waiomu on the Coromandel was our choice where there's a small motel, without too many mod-cons, right on the sea front. Who cares about mod-cons when all you want to do is relax and watch the sun set over the hills on the other side of the firth, with a few glasses of wine.

Dinner the first night was takeaway pizzas with home-made crust from the Waiomu Beach Cafe - my topping choice of mushrooms, bacon, smoked garlic and rocket chosen a magnificent match to the wine that we chose for dinner that night - which was . . .

julicher99-09.jpg (68969 bytes)Julicher 99 Rows Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009.
It's a rich ruby red colour and the bouquet is smoky and savoury with cherry, violet and rose petal - sensuous and appealing. The taste is supple and savoury, silky and succulent with ripe red and black cherry fruit, smoky oak, cake spice, well-balanced underlying acidity and an earthy, mushroom complexity to the lingering aftertaste. Each sip is a gorgeous mouthful of  beautiful Pinot Noir from one of Martinborough's new stars.   It's a current release with a RRP of $29.

Tip: Take your own wine glasses. You never know what you are going to get in motels. We took our own wine and our own wine glasses and the wine experience was all the better for it.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 12th 2010

Bubbles Week: Part 7 - Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc - what the . . . ? OK. So it's not so new. But once upon a time it used to be rare.  Now there seems to be sparkling sauv everywhere. It jumps out of end stacks in the supermarket and for sure it makes an alternative fizzy summer quaffer. But what exactly are people getting for their bucks? Some good, some bad, judging by my tasting. One so bad it evoked comments like 'blah' and 'eck'. I definitely wasn't impressed with Goldridge Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - perhaps I should have tasted it last year - or may I had a bad bottle as it received a bronze medal earlier this year. Villa Maria Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is borderline for me. It's labelled 'lightly sparkling' and has a screwcap closure, and while the flavours are definitely varietal, to me it was a little tart and unbalanced.   Here are the ones that I liked best.

sparkling-sauvs.jpg (34852 bytes)

Waipara Hills Marlborough Cuvee Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV
Lots of fine bubbles and a bright fruit scent. Zesty with a creamy mouthfeel but just a little too sweet. I like the fact it seems toned down in pungency compared to some of the others and there's an unusual vanilla (or mealy) infusion but it is still distinctly varietal with tropical fruit and gooseberry, as well as a touch of lemonade citrus and tarragon lingering nicely on the finish. 3 stars.

Brancott Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV
Gooseberry and green apple scents with a sweet musky character. The sweet impression carries through to the foamy-textured palate. A light to medium-bodied fresh fruity style with spearmint on the finish. Outstanding packaging - the bottle will look very classy on the table. 3 stars.

Clayridge Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Bright tropical fruit scents tinged with aromatic summer herbs and pungent powerful flavours with gooseberry, melon, herbs and capsicum the lasting impression. The fizz adds to the overall appeal and some lovely chervil, tarragon and basil flavours linger. What's coming through in this wine, as the bubbles subside, is the funky yeast lees flavours from the wild ferment. So you could let the wine go flat and it would still be nice. The was easily my Wine of the Tasting. Zork closure. 4 stars.

Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc Bubbles 2010
Gooseberry and green apple scents with a hint of 'sweat'. Quite creamy in texture and flavours that have plenty of those Marlborough green fruit, veg and herbs with tropical fruit and even a hint of banana on the finish. No doubt at all as to what the grape variety is. Zork closure. 3 stars.

So what do you do if you open a bottle of sparkling sauv but don't drink it all and the bubbles go flat? It's a test of a good sparkling sauv if it is still drinkable when it is still. Otherwise if you have one of those home carbonating machines, you can simply put the bubbles back in - but if you do have one of those machines, you can make your own sparkling wine whenever you want.  Heaven forbid!

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

Bubbles Week: Part 6 - Other Varietals

We think of bubbles being mostly made from the classic Champagne grapes, but of course they are not. Just think of those wonderful Chenin Blanc bubbles from the Loire Valley. There's a change in direction here in NZ with an increasing number of 'other varietal' sparkling wines with Sauvignon Blanc bubbles effervescing onto the market last year. We'll look at some of those tomorrow, but tonight let's take a look at Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a non-methode Pinot Noir.

Kowhai Pinot Sparkling Pinot Gris 2008 is made from Marlborough grapes. This has been tasted before as Boom, but Kowhai Point is Paul Sharp's export label. Crisp and toasty with a yeasty richness, the tiny bubbles that rise from the bottom of the glass are foamy in the mouth and apple pie flavours come through on the finish. It's full and flavoursome, and most of all, not too sweet, in fact it has an intriguing savouriness You would almost swear this was a methode style, but I am ensured it is not. I think that yeasty character comes from the time the base wine spent on yeast lees. I really like this. It's like a 'Cremant' style.

Waipara Hills Southern Cuvee NV is made from Riesling grapes grown in the Waipara Valley. It's clear and bright in appearance with small to not-so-small bubbles. In the mouth this wine is creamy through and through with a bit of creaming soda flavour in there too and vanilla quite heady on the finish. It's soft and mellow with melon, honeysuckle and tropical fruit flavours – like off-dry Riesling – and there's a hint of pineapple coming through that makes me think Fruju iceblocks on a stick. There's a floral Riesling character on the nose, an underlying chalky texture and the bubbles have a boisterous reflux. If you want something different, try this. When tasted with a piece of fresh red apple, a spearmint flavour comes through. 12% alcohol. RRP $18.90.

Brancott Estate Reserve Sparkling Pinot Noir NV also hails from Marlborough and unlike the clear straw-coloured Blanc de Noir methode traditionelle made from Pinot Noir grapes, this wine is a rich ruby red and when the bubbles die down, it definitely looks like a very young red wine. Sweet and jammy on the nose, the sweet jammy impression carries through to the palate where fruit cake cherries abound and an underlying stalky savouriness comes through. But this wine, to my palate, is frivolous – it needs to tone down on the sweetness and the slightly coconut flavours. I'm going to reduce down the leftovers to see if I can make a Pinot Noir sauce that could possibly accompany the turkey or ham. 13% alcohol. RRP $23.95.

I still think Soljans Sienna Sparkling Pinotage (made from predominantly 1998 vintage grapes in a methode traditionelle style with three years maturation on yeast lees) is the best full-bodied sparkling NZ red bubbles ever made.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 9th 2010

Bubbles Week: Part 5 - Morton Methode

My favourite sparkling in the Morton Estate range is, without doubt, the Morton Estate Black Label. Made from the classic Champagne grapes; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it is unusual for New Zealand because of its high percentage of Pinot Meunier - in fact in some vintages, Pinot Meunier is the dominant grape.  A methode traditionelle that has at least four years on yeast lees, the 2005 is the latest release. I tasted a trio of Black Labels recently.

Morton Estate Black Label 2002
62% Pinot Meunier, 33% Pinot Noir, 5% Chardonnay. 100% Hawkes Bay fruit. 5 and a half years maturation on yeast lees. 11.6% alcohol.
A little smoky on the nose at first and then the brightness of the aromatics comes through. Plenty of fizz and foam when poured with fine bubbles imparting a pleasing sparkle to the texture. There are lovely nutty, earthy nuances to the flavour with a bready richness and a delicate stonefruit and floral nuance to the finish. Drinking beautifully now.

Morton Estate Black Label 2004
54% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, 16% Chardonnay. 84% Hawkes Bay and 16% Marlborough fruit. 5 years maturation on yeast lees. 12.5% alcohol.
The gorgeous biscuity bouquet is infused with rose petal, yeasty notes and a slight suggestion of caramel. There's a lovely roundness to the palate with a very fine mousse, hints of strawberry come through on the delicate, yet lasting, slightly nutty finish and it seems very complete. Simply outstanding and easily my favourite of the trio. A wine I would happily open on Christmas Day.

Morton Estate Black Label 2005
40% Pinot Noir, 48% Pinot Meunier, 12% Chardonnay. 80% Hawkes Bay and 20% Marlborough fruit. with 4 years maturation on yeast lees. 12.5% alcohol.
A little restrained on the nose but again that lovely richness and roundness to the palate with a nutty character coming through and a youthful vigour to the mousse.

If you are driving around the Bay of Plenty this summer (or in fact anytime), do call into the Morton Estate cellar door, north of Tauranga and 8 kilometres south of Katikati. The methode traditionelle wines are assembled here at the winery. This is where the cuvee is bottled for the secondary ferment followed by a number of years maturation on yeast lees before riddling, disgorging and finally labelling.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 8th 2010

Bubbles Week: Part 4 - Daniel and his Sabre

Mr Daniel Le Brun preparing to sabre the top off a bottle of a Rehoboam of No 1 Family Estate No 1 Cuvee last night at the celebration of Daniel's 30 years of winemaking in New Zealand. The tradition of sabrage goes back to Napoleon Army days.

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

Bubbles Week: Part 3 - Jacob and Coconut Spaghetti

The bubbles we fell in love with last year and now is the favoured light refreshing tipple of some of our friends, is Jacobs Creek Moscato NV. I had a chance to revisit this delicious bubbles yesterday when some of the Jacobs Creek people came to town.

The occasion was to mark the handing over of the chief winemaking reins from Philip Laffer to Bernard Hicken and both were in Auckland for the day. They did it in style at the new SidArt restaurant in the Three Lamps Plaza in Ponsonby Road.  For many of us it was our first visit to SidArt - and personally speaking I can say I hope it won't be my last.

There's a new Jacobs Creek methode traditionelle on the horizon, Jacobs Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut 2007, but it was a teaser starter because it's not available in New Zealand until sometime next year. That's sad because I just loved the lovely, creamy, bready flavours and the hint of sweetness on the long dry finish. I thought it would be an all-round crowd-pleaser.

Wines were poured to match the food courses. 

Firstly Jacobs Creek Steingarten Riesling 2007, a classic to those who know it. Loved the aromatics of lemon-every-way with tropical fruit and toasty lime heading towards coconut, and then the racy acid tension in the palate.   This is a wine that will age for years but today it accompanied yellowfin tuna, seared scallops, crispy squid, radish and a black-coloured smoked parsnip puree.

Jacobs Creek St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet 2005 accompanied lamb rack and rump, goats cheese with porcini and boquerone. This is a vibrantly scented wine brimming with cedar, cassis and eucalypt. Earthy in the palate with concentrated red fruit, spicy cedar, even a hint of pepper and chewy tannins, with its lifted minty / eucalypt notes this full-bodied red is the epitome of Coonawarra Cab.

Lastly Jacobs Creek Moscato NV, which was most definitely the wine and food match of the day. Very fresh and tantalising with a perfume of Muscat grapes, spearmint and rose stems, it has a lovely sherbet-like fizz that creates a foamy texture, well-balanced acidity to sweetness, juicy Muscat flavours and spearmint along with tarragon lingering on the finish, and most of all, not too sweet. The food was exquisite, a passionfruit parfait on a pineapple coulis with coconut foam and coconut spaghetti.

I learnt the Moscato is made by the Charmat method, which means it is neither fermented in the bottle, nor does it have carbon dioxide added. The secondary ferment takes place in large, closed, pressurised tanks and the wine, together with its bubbles, is transferred under pressure to the bottle. Although Charmat is named for a Frenchman, it is often called the Italian Method as it is used for so many of Italy's sparkling wines, eg Prosecco and Asti Spumante. I also learnt that it is the carbonic acid by-product of carbon dioxide that helps to balance the sweetness - and I think the fact that this is not an overly-sweet Moscato, is what makes it so appealing. And with only 9% alcohol, it's a safe two glass wine. It's delicious on its own, it will match to spicy Asian cuisine and, of course, to deserts. RRP is $14.99.

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

Bubbles Week: Part 2 - Virginie

Named for the daughter of Daniel and Adele Le Brun, Virginie is a methode traditionelle from Marlborough's No 1 Family Estate, made from a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir with close to four years on yeast lees.  Only made in exceptional years, the 2006 vintage has jut been released. And it's beautiful - not only in its new presentation, but also in taste.

It was the third wine tasted in a trio of festive bubbles at the First Glass tasting last Wednesday, following on from the delicious No 1 Family No 1 Cuvee, a Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) and, after enjoying a bottle yesterday, reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week.

Being the third bubbles in the blind tasting, I was convinced I was drinking Champagne, so refined was texture and savouriness of the wine. How exciting to find out it was from Marlborough, but perhaps no surprise to then find out it was from No 1 Family Estate.

No 1 Family Cuvee Virginie 2006 is light gold in hue with a delicacy to the aroma but a rich, savoury, yeasty taste where gorgeous lemony flavours come through - reminding me of lemon verbena in a way - and combine beautifully with nutty, creamy, bready flavours.  What's also so gorgeous about his wine is the texture - the very fine bubbles imparting a smooth springy texture - and the way the wine gets into all the nooks and crannies of the mouth leaving behind a delicate marmite savouriness and toastiness.

The wine has 12.5% alcohol by volume and it's not cheap, around $65 a bottle, but it's one of New Zealand's best and worth it for a special occasion - like Christmas Day.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 5th 2010

Bubbles Week: Part 1 - Clayridge

Tis the season to be jolly . . and this week my jollies are centred on bubbles, sparkling wine, fizz - whatever you want to call it - and maybe even Champagne (or maybe not). But first the lesson. Champagne is bubbles that comes from a specific classified wine appellation in France, not to be confused with Champagne, a tiny village in Switzerland, or Cham pain, which is what you get the morning after you drinking too much Champagne the night before. Joking aside, what this actually means is that wines from Marlborough can't be called Champagne, unless the wine comes from a Marlborough wine shop and was made in Champagne. So evocative is the branding, that not even beverages from the Swiss village of Champagne can use the name.

We continue the lesson with the method of getting the bubbles into the bottle. The Champagne method - or what is often now called methode traditionelle is to add some yeast and sugar to a bottle of wine, close it tightly and let the a secondary fermentation take place in the bottle. This creates carbon dioxide gas that cannot escape. The sediment that accumulates is the yeast lees, which imparts the yeasty complexity to wines made this way. But the sediment eventually has to be removed so that the finished wine is crystal clear. When it is time for this to happen, the bottle, which has been laying on its side now for some months, is turned slightly and tilted slightly each day until the bottle is completely upside down and the sediment in sitting in the neck. The neck of the bottle is frozen, the bottle is flipped up the right way, the seal is moved, the plug of frozen sediment pops out and the empty space is filled with a little more wine or liqueur before the bottle is resealed. Miraculously all the carbon dioxide gas stays within, only to escape as froth, foam and bubbles when the wine is eventually opened, sometimes with flare.

Another way of adding bubbles is simply adding carbon dioxide to the finished wine, just like it's done with non-alcoholic fizzy drinks. You still get the froth, foam and bubbles, and only a purist would care. Methode traditionelle wines will have finer bubbles and a more yeasty, baked bread, savoury taste. Adding the bubbles later, with CO2 gas, is sometimes the best way if you want a wine that is young and fresh, and tastes like the grapes it was made from.

clayridgebubs.jpg (24797 bytes)Clayridge Marlborough Pinot Rosé Brut 2010

We start the week with a delightful sparkling Pinot rosé, which at first glance makes you think Pinot Noir rosé, but on reading the back label you find is is blend of Noir, Gris and Blanc pinot grapes and with further delving, discover it is 60% free-run Pinot Noir, 30% wild ferment Pinot Gris and 10% wild ferment Pinot Blanc.

Actually, you need to read the back label to find out if there are instructions on how to open the bottle, because when you remove the foil you find there is no traditional cork and wire muselet, but instead an intriguing Zork sparkling wine closure. The back label has no instructions. You finally figure to unwrap the winding bit around the neck, which comes off completely, then give the top a twist. The top comes off with a phfisst rather than a pop. The good thing about the closure is that goes back on like a fizz-saver top and preserves the bubbles for the next pour.

This mousse is frothy when poured with a surge of white foam above the delicate strawberry hue. An appealing bouquet of strawberry with a hint of cherry and just off dry to the taste, but not cloying and definitely not too sweet. Light and refreshing yet with body and substance - dare I say a little Burgundian-like - it has an intriguing, savoury, almost earthy element; underlying acidity with a tingle of sweet citrus and juicy strawberry, pear and watermelon too. It has 13.5% alcohol and a recommended retail of $24. I rate it a healthy 4 stars.

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

Sauvignon Blanc a winner with Oysters - and more

News has arrived from Washington DC's Old Ebbit Grill that once again a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme at the 16th annual International Wines for Oysters Competition. Sileni Estates Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is the wine.

Ngatarawa Glazebrook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was the second runner-up after a Californian sparkling wine while New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs took out six of the seven gold medals. They were Babich SB 2009, Kim Crawford SB 2009, Babich 'Black Label' SB 2009, Nobilo SB 2009, Kato SB 2009 and Matua Valley SB 2009 – all from Marlborough.

It's rare for a wine from another country to beat a New Zealand Sauv in this competition – check out

So Sauvignon Blanc goes mighty fine with oysters but I don't eat oysters so have to find something else. No problem at this time of year with so many yummy sauvignon-friendly flavours coming straight from the garden (or in my case, pots on the deck). So here's a delicious sauvignon-friendly dish that I came up with last night.

Fresh Pasta with Vine Tomatoes, Basil and Rocket

Take half a dozen baby vine tomatoes – these are a little bigger than cherry tomatoes – cut each tomato in half, place on a rack in an oven pre-heated to 150 degrees C. Bake for half an hour with fan on, lower heat to 100 degrees and bake a further 30 to 60 minutes. This concentrates the tomatoes and they smell intense and delicious.

Cut four rashers of streaky bacon into lardons. In a frying pan saute the bacon with spring onion (long green onion) and one clove of sliced garlic. Cook for as long as it takes the bacon to cook. Remove pan from heat and put to one side.

Meanwhile pick leaves of basil and rocket from your garden. I hope your basil is doing better than mine is – it seems to be bolting and the leaves are giant-sized. Slice the basil leaves (I used half a dozen really big ones) into strips and stir into the bacon mix.

Cook fresh pasta as directed. I used fettuccine. Drain, then add liberal glugs of extra virgin olive oil (I like the Kiwi brand) and not so liberal glugs of balsamic – ratio is about two of oil to one of balsamic (or less - do the taste test). A teaspoon of sugar, to take the edge off the acidity, can be added now too.

Stir in the bacon mix. Divide the pasta into two plates. Add half a dozen rocket leaves and stir into each – the pasta is warm and the rocket will wilt. Place the tomatoes on to the top – six halves on each plate. Decorate with a little more basil and baby rocket leaves.

Serve as an accompaniment to fresh exuberant Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious. I'll take a photo next time I make it – but be ensured that with the vibrant red of the tomato and the vibrant green of the basil and rocket, it does look very pretty. 

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