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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: January 2011
Jan 31st: Wooing the Pinot Noir drinkers
Jan 26th: Australia Day Toast
Jan 23rd: Sauvignon Blanc - the definitive salad wine
Jan 18th: Sparkling Sauvignon Star
Jan 17th: Wild South on the East Coast
Jan 13th: Capricious Arneis
Jan 11th: Feeling Groovy
Jan 10th: Chill your whites this summer
Jan 7th: Bannockburn in 1998
Jan 6th: Blood-red wines on the Matakana Wine Trail
Jan 1st: An old wine for a New Year
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 31st 2011

Wooing the Pinot Noir drinkers

The 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration held in Queenstown over the weekend was a success by all accounts but are the winegrowers in New Zealand's most southern wine growing region getting a little worried about the amount of wine they are producing? Do they have the markets to soak up all the supply? Well, if the price is right, we'll drink it all ourselves, thank you very much.

There's something very attractive about the savoury-edged, soft-textured, fruity Central pinots that are coming onto the market - wines from the outstanding 2009 vintage are becoming widely available and soon the 2010's will join them, and as some winegrowers produce what is effectively their 'third tier' labels, the consumers are the winners.

Take Wooing Tree Vineyard, for example. Their top tier wine, produced in very small quantities, is 'Sandstorm Reserve' ($85) and their second tier is simply named Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir ($40). So now the evocatively-named Wooing Tree BeetleJuice Pinot Noir ($28) is effectively their 'third tier' wine. And the 2009 is the best yet.

Wooing Tree BeetleJuice Pinot Noir 2009 has a deep, rich ruby red colour and the aromas are savoury and smoky with herbs, pomegranate concentrate and cherries. This is plush, generous Pinot Noir brimming with concentrated red fruits that are so succulent and juicy it's hard to resist. But there's enough grip to the velvety-textured tannins and a little funk to the savoury backbone to make this deadly serious and these characters will become more pronounced with cellaring. I rate it 5 stars.

When I hear the name Beetlejuice I immediately think of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But Beetlejuice in the Hitchhiker's Guide is the phonetic pronunciation of the star, Beetlegeuese. Still, enough of this wine and you'll be on your own galaxy.

Wooing Tree's BeetleJuice is actually named after a chafer beetle that is found only in Cromwell, in a protected reserve, close by to where the grapes for this wine are grown. Its image is depicted on the label.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 26th 2011

Australia Day Toast

They'll be drinking our wine in Australia today, like they do every day. For the year ended June 2010 New Zealand exported almost 46,000 million litres of wine into Australia and 92% of that was white wine! And since that end of year figure, the monthly average is increasing. Lucky for us the Aussies love our sauvignon blanc. And why not when it's value-proposition wine that can be well-chilled for the Aussie heat and still taste crisp, refreshing and most importantly, varietal and fruity. Sweet!

Last year Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was the second to top wine sold in Australia by number of cases, according to some indepth research by David Farmer on his website,  However Farmer points out a discrepancy his AC Nielsen-sourced figures and those from Oyster Bay. The wine company states the number of cases sold as 37% higher.

Sparkling wines round out the top 3 and that's not surprising because fizz really does hit the spot on a hot Aussie day.

So today I'm toasting the Australia Day with a glass of fizz that's one of their own. It's not a cheapie that you'll find in the Australia's Top 25 wines by number of cases sold, but one that is top of its class when it comes to taste.

Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir & Chardonnay Brut 2005 is a light gold colour with a fine stream of bubbles. It has a Champagne-like aroma of nuts and savoury yeast lees with that distinct 'yeast autolysis' slightly oxidative thing coming through. The taste is full-bodied with lemon bread, nuts, zest and a fresh tangy finish where the lively lemon and apple acidity is tempered by a deep, creamy, mouthfilling richness. A blend of 79% Pinot Noir and 21% Chardonnay, I rate it 5 stars.

Grapes for this wine are sourced from the Whitfield Vineyard in Victoria's King Valley where the vineyard is 800 metres above sea level. Here in New Zealand it costs around $40 a bottle.  It's worth it for that something Australian that's just that little bit extra special.  Happy Australia Day!

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 23rd 2011

Sauvignon Blanc - the definitive salad wine

There are salads and there are salads but in this context I'm talking about a typical Kiwi summer salad, the one you make to accompany your meal on a weekday or weekend night. The typical salad in my house is lettuce greens, spring onion, grated carrot, grated cheese, cucumber, capsicum, tomato and loads of fresh herbs like basil and parsley. Wrap a forkful around a spoonful of Best's Mayo (the lite version, of course), put it in your mouth, have a chew and wash it down with a fresh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it really is an outstanding experience of food and wine.

Two benchmark Sauvs really shone in this taste test, both with the salad and without. I call them benchmark because they are labels that have been on the Marlborough scene almost as long as wine (in the modern era) has been made there.

Hunter's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($16.90), served chilled, as it should be in summer, has such a deliciously fruity aroma that emanates Sauv's characteristic pungency, that pungency so distinctive in the palate too. Juicy and zesty with lime, herb and tropical fruit, roundness to the texture and tangy acidity on the finish, it really hits the spot.  Hunter's is baaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($21.95), has hints of grapefruit on the nose, which is quite restrained for Sauv, but it is distinctly varietal in the palate. A rich, fat, rounded wine with a softness that comes from perhaps the 7% oak and the time on yeast lees, as well as bottle age. Now two years old, it is developing toasty notes together with pea and bean characters and mellow tropical fruit.   Drinking nicely now, it has no brashness at all.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 18th 2011

Sparkling Sauvignon Star

When you realise that the creator of this wine made sauvignon blanc for one of New Zealand's most well known wine labels, Cloudy Bay, and now makes methode traditionelle wines for New Zealand's only specialist methode traditionelle producer, No. 1 Family Estate, you know this isn't going to be any ordinary sparkling sauv. You know it is going to have an edge. Shooting Star Methode Traditionelle Sauvignon Blanc is winemaker Eveline Fraser's personal label. It's not only delightful wine, but has the most attractive packaging too. It's this week's Wine of the Week - click here to read more

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 17th 2011

Wild South on the East Coast

A weekend at Whangamata on the east coast of Coromandel couldn't have been timed better. Most of the holiday crowds had gone, there were no clouds for the sun to hide behind, the surf was pounding, the water was crystal clear and we made it back home today before the rain set in. But with the summer heat the fridges were working overtime to keep the beverages cool. And they needed to be cool.

Everyone loved the Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2007 from my stash that I bought last year for a ridiculous price of about $14.99 a bottle, but it was Wild South Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 that also turned out to be a star. Juicy citrus and pineapple aromas introduce the fresh, tangy flavours of green apple, tropical fruit and lime with richness accrued from bottle age and a touch of sweet pea on the spicy and pungent (but not overly pungent) finish. It was deliciously refreshing when served icy cold before dinner. Despite being almost two years old, this is still the current vintage until the 2010 is released. Four stars. RRP $18.90. 13% alc. Screwcap closure.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 13th 2011

Capricious Arneis

Arneis is another variety that hasn't been around for long in New Zealand. Italian in origin, from Roero in the northern region of Piedmonte, it can be traced back to the 1400s, but was unknown outside its home until recently. Its story is a little like Viognier, more or less forgotten outside its own region until the 1960s. But then it was re-discovered.

It was first produced as wine in New Zealand in 2002 by Vin Alto, a specialist Italian grape producer in Clevedon, near Auckland. But because the crop harvested was so tiny, this – and later vintages – were blended into Chardonnay. Coopers Creek was the first to produce a 100% Arneis, from Gisborne-grown grapes, in 2006 - see this historical Wine of the Week. Now Coopers Creek have released their fourth vintage.

Coopers Creeks Select Vineyards Arneis 'The Little Rascal' 2009 has an oily richness to the scent that when very cold hints only of lemon zest, but as it warms up in the glass is tantalisingly more floral with the fruity deliciousness of cherimoya. It's quite full-bodied in the palate with a musky note that has you smacking your lips (and when tasted blind has you wondering if there's a dollop of spicy Gewurztraminer in there), but the dominant flavours are apple skin, spice and white pepper, and the wine finishes dry. But what is so delightful about this wine is the oily, silky, mouth-coating texture and the delicate flavours of apricot that linger on the finish. It has 14% alc, a screwcap closure, and costs around $23 a bottle.
Tip: Do not overchill - or if you take it straight from the fridge, let it lose its icy edge as it becomes so much more flavoursome when it warms a little in the glass.

The name of the grape, in loacl Roero dialect, signifies a madcap or capricious person. Perhaps that's why it's also known as 'a little rascal'.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 11th 2011

Feeling Groovy

Look at the date - 11.1.11 - the numbers make me feel groovy. But when it comes to wine, it's Gruner Veltliner, aka Gru-vee, that's the grooviest number. It's the grape variety that Austria is famous for, but plantings are spreading around the world and now they've arrived in New Zealand.  In 2008, Coopers Creek produced this country's first Gruner Veltliner. Now the 2010 has been released.

Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Gruner Veltliner 'The Groover' 2010 smells like a dry Riesling when served chilled straight from the refrigerator. It's floral and limey with a hint of talc, but that's where any Riesling similarity ends. It has soft acidity and an oily richness to the texture and is nutty and spicy with a delicate musk and apple sweetness, yet finishes dry. I like the mouthfeel and mouthcoating fullness and the subtle suggestion of tarragon that lingers on the finish. It really is a delicious summer drinking wine.

Also released, for its very first vintage, is Waimea Nelson Gruner Veltliner 2010. This is deliciously refreshing when served very chilled. The aromas are aromatic with a hint of lemon zest and the punchy flavours are juicy and herbal with a tropical fruit richness. There's a Sauvignon Blanc similarity to the flavour profile but as the wine warms up in the glass the inherent spiciness of the Gruner Veltliner grape comes through, and it finishes nutty and dry.

There are similarities to these two Gru-vee examples but also differences - no doubt due to regional origin and winemaking styles. But I was impressed. The Waimea wine was chosen as this week's Wine of the Week - so click on this link and read a little more about Gruner Veltliner and the featured wine.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 10th 2011

Chill your whites this summer

If there's one thing I've found out this hot humid Auckland summer, you have to keep your cold wines cold, so drag out that ice bucket of that cupboard and treat your white wines nicely these mid-summer days. For some wines, the icy refrigerator temperature is perfect while others need to lose the icy edge. So decide if you need ice in your ice bucket, or whether simply cold water will do. But whatever you do, don't let the wine heat up and definitely not to room temperature if the room temperature is anything like mine (unless of course you have air con). Wine served at room temperature in my house, at this time of year, combined with 99 to 100% humidity, is a no-no and outdoors temperature without any shade is a no-no-no. So it's also a 'small pour' time of year otherwise the wine in your glass wine in your glass will quickly lose its cool.

It was something I discovered during the course of recent blind wine tasting line-ups. Wines were poured from bottles that had been chilled in the refrigerator, but the speed the wines warmed up in the glass was unbelievable. And for some wines, particularly the sweeter ones, the warmth was like a disease. When the wine was revealed and I saw who made it, I wondered how such a lauded winemaker could make such an un-balanced wine. But it was the warmth that had crippled the wine and made it perform well below par.

The NZ Riesling Challenge tasting was held on a hot summer's afternoon, and with the 12 wines poured to be blind-tasted, as a group, I felt the warmth start to add some maladies. So the wines were re-tasted the following day, but this time the wines were tasted one by one, in random order, with each single pour coming from an icy bottle in the fridge. Two wines in particular, caned in the original tasting as being out-of-balance, came out with scores that put them near the top. In fact, drinking them icy cold, they were quite delicious.

But nothing could take anything away from the wine I picked as No. 1 first time through, and also as No. 1 in the repeat tasting. This was the 'medium-sweet'' wine made my Pegasus Bay winemaker Matthew Donaldson and was also voted the top wine when the winemakers themselves did the tasting.

I'm still waiting on some technical notes on the Riesling Challenge wines. I'm interested to find out whether winemakers introduced up to 15% other than the Riesling Challenge fruit (as allowed in the rules) and how they derived the 'sweetness level', as depicted on the Riesling sweetness scale.  It's not just residual sugar that comes into play, but total acidity and pH (another factor that affects flavour) too.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 7th 2011

Bannockburn in 1998

One of the more interesting wines opened over the holiday period was a 1998 Bannockburn Pinot Noir. Bannockburn, Australia is the place that gave Bannockburn, Central Otago, its name – once rich goldmining sites, the gold now exhausted and the places both now better known for outstanding pinot noir.

Some people call pinot noir the heartbreak grape because it is so hard to grow, but not in the Bannockburns. But 1998 in Bannockburn, Victoria, was a heartbreak vintage after a hailstorm decimated 90% of the potential 1998 crop in just 10 minutes. Yet Bannockburn Vineyards still made a wine.

Bannockburn South Eastern Australian Pinot Noir 1998 is a special wine thanks to the generosity of 38 wineries who offered assistance, with fifteen of those supplying grapes. So with pinot noir grapes sourced from Bannockburn, Blue Pyrenees, BRL Hardy, Cape Mentelle, Dalwhinnie, Hillstowe, Innisfail, Lusatia Park, Nepenthe, Petaluma, Peter Davies, Pike, Prince Albert, Smithbrook, Tarrawarra and Yalumba (the names are listed on the back label), it's a true multi-region blend

The colour was a faded, bricking, transparent orange red and the flavours were earthy and savoury with little fruit left. There was a bit of funk and a bit of a dried rose fragrance. But the tannins were silky and and the mouthfeel quite complete.

The back label stated, "Enjoy it as a tribute to the great camaraderie that exists among Australian winemakers." And enjoy it, we did. Alcohol was 13.5% by volume, and the bottle had a real cork.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 6th 2011

Blood-red wines on the Matakana Wine Trail

There is a new grape variety being grown in Matakana, according to Sue Courtney's Matakana Wine Trail guide published in the Rodney Times today. Sanguineous is listed as one of the red wine varieties grown in the region, however, while sanguineous means the colour of blood or blood-red, thus a word that seems quite at home for a red wine grape, it is not a grape variety. It's an imposter, thanks probably to a enthusiastic spell-checker operator. The real grape variety, derived from the words sanguis Jovis and meaning the blood of Jove, is Sangiovese.
Click here for article - but note that at the time of writing the online article has used the 2010 map, not the correct 2011 map, which was published in the print version.

matakana-article.jpg (152857 bytes)

Matakana, Auckland's most northern wine-growing region, hurtled into the spotlight in the mid- to late-1980s when a 5-litre bottle of a Bordeaux-styled red, from Antipodean Farm, sold at auction for $5000. This attracted the attention of not only wine connoisseurs, many who snapped up the Antipodean Farm wines at a later auction at the end of that decade when the owners split the company down the middle after an unresolved matter of difference, but also a new wave of winemakers. Matakana, with its proximity to Auckland City, meant that artisan winemakers could establish their vineyards while working in Auckland to fund their passion.

The promise of the potential was realised when Heron's Flight won the region's first wine competition gold medal for their 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon. Gold followed for the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon as well but owner David Hoskins had two bad years in between, and realised quickly that the traditional Bordeaux varieties were not reliable in the changeable climate of the region. He investigated Italian varieties, planting two clones of Sangiovese, and in 1998 produced his first Italian-inspired reds.

Today there are over 30 vineyards in Matakana and as many different grape varieties. In January 2011 the wine trail boasts twelve stops, with seven of those stops offering dining options as well. Most stops charge tasting fees (TF), although many refund the tasting fee on purchase of wine.

Ascension Wine Estate, 480 Matakana Road, Matakana.
Cellar door opens daily from 10 am to 5 pm for wine tastings. TF: $6. Bistro. An exciting range of reds and whites. Be sure to try the breathtaking Vestal Virgin Viognier.

Brick Bay Wines, Arabella Lane, Snells Beach,
Open from 10 am until 5 pm daily. TF: $$ - $5, depending on number of wines. Food platters. Sculpture trail. Be sure to try the Pinot Gris

Contour Estate, 139 Takatu Road, Matakana.
The cellar door of this specialist Syrah producer is open until Easter from 11 am to 5 pm. TF: $5.

Hawks Nest, 646 Matakana Road, Matakana. Ph 027 217 2588
Open on Saturdays throughout the summer from 11 am to 5 pm. TF: $2. Be sure to try the Rosť.

Hincho Family Wines at Taste, 2 Neville Street, Warkworth. and Open daily. Merlot reigns supreme at Hincho. Be sure to try the 'The Encore' Dessert Merlot.

Hyperion Wines, 188 Tongue Farm Road, Matakana.
Open from 10 am until 5 pm daily throughout January and February and most of March, and weekends thereafter. Matakana's only Pinot Noir producer. Be sure to try Midas Malbec.

Mahurangi River Estate, 162 Hamilton Road, Matakana,
Summer hours: 9 am to 4 pm. TF: $5. Breakfast and lunch available. Be sure to try the Field of Grace Reserve Chardonnay.

Omaha Bay Vineyard (OBV), 189 Takatu Road, Matakana.
With views over Omaha Bay to Little Barrier Island, the cellar door at OBV has one of Matakana's most scenic settings. Open from 11 am to 5 pm, Wednesdays to Sundays. TF: $5. Food platters. Be sure to try the Sparkling Flora, aka Fab.

Plume – the vineyard Restaurant, 49 Sharp Road, Matakana. www.plume
Open daily from 10.30 am to 4 pm for cellar door sales and tastings of French-inspired Runner Duck wines and Italian-inspired Herons Flight wines. TF: $12. Restaurant. Be sure to try Herons Flight Sangiovese and Runner Duck Syrah.

Providence Vineyard, Takatu Road, Matakana.
Open public holiday weekends only – as advertised closer to the time – hours are 12 pm until 5 pm on open days – look for the 'open' sign at the gate. Outstanding Pomerol-inspired wines. TF.

Ransom Wines, Valerie Close, Warkworth.
Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm during January, and from Tuesday to Sunday for the rest of the year. TF: $5 (donation to TOSSI). Food platters. Be sure to try the Carmenere.

The Vintry, Matakana Valley Road, Matakana.
Sited at the back of the cinema complex, overlooking the Matakana Village Farmers' Market venue, opening hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily. Sales, tastings and 'flights' of Matakana wines from almost every Matakana producer. As well as those listed above, other producers include Coxhead Creek, Gillman Vineyard, Greve, Matakana Estate, Matavino, Merryfields, Michael Ramon, Mount Tamahunga, Saltings Estate, Takatu Estate, Ti Point, Te Kei Vineyard and The Antipodean. A top place to visit. Platters available too.

For more on Matakana, check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 1st 2011

An old wine for a New Year

It's traditional to toast the New Year with a glass of bubbles and our contribution to the celebrations turned out to be a real treat.

The cork made a pop as it was extracted from a bottle of Cloudy Bay Pelorus 1998 and as the light to moderate gold-coloured liquid was poured, foam formed and subsided and tiny bubbles rose incessantly from the bottom of the glass. A brilliant expression of a 12-year-old bubbles with a bouquet of roasted nuts and mellowness to the flavour with marmite, melon jam and passionfruit bread. A full-bodied, creamy style with a delightful complexity that can only come with bottle age. The back label said it's a blend of classic varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, aged three years on yeast lees. The alcohol stated 13%. 

Today is 1/1/11. Happy New Year.  Cheers!

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