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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: February 2011
Feb 28th: Easter Show and Sydney Gold Medals
Feb 27th: Three Sauv Blancs show varietal diversity
Feb 23rd: The future is a promise to nobody
Feb 20th: Hunters Rieslings have Heritage
Feb 15th: Who really planted Marlborough's first grapevine?
Feb 13th: Peaches and Soljans Chardonnay
Feb 10th: Sideways goes Vertical
Feb 9th: Air New Zealand wins sky high wine awards
Feb 6th: New Zealand Reserve Pinot Noir
Feb 5th: Surprising 'Red Bubbles' Gift
Feb 3rd: You get what you pay for
Feb 2nd:NZ wineries safe in mass sell off
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 28th 2011

Easter Show and Sydney Gold Medals

The Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, judged on the 12-14 February saw a surge of gold medals being awarded. The medal tally, according to the wines listed on the show website (and slightly different to the initial press release), is 119 gold, 261 silver, and 537 bronze. Total entries at 1542, were up 1.6% on last year.

Big winners were –
Villa Maria – 17 gold medals, plus 3 for Vidal, 2 for Esk Valley and 2 for Thornbury, which is 24 golds for the Villa Maria group.
Saint Clair – 7 golds
Matua Valley - 5 golds
Lawson's Dry Hills – 3 golds
Whitehaven – 3 golds

All of the results are on the website and Trophies will be announced on Saturday 19th March.
In the meantime I've compiled this table that reflects the medal results by variety

Royal Easter Wine Show 2011












Sauvignon Blanc








Pinot Gris








Other Specified Whites 0


Sweet White




Cabernet Sauvignon




Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot-predominant blends












Pinot Noir




Other Reds




Unspecified or blended reds 0















The Sydney International Wine Competition was judged in October but the results were announced just this past weekend. 86 New Zealand wines were awarded Blue-Gold medals - just ten of those wines doubling up with a gold at the Easter Show.

It was an outstanding result for Hawkes Bay's Elephant Hill Winery who took out five Blue-Gold medals but more importantly three trophies, including the coveted Best Wine of Competition as well as Best Red Table Wine and Best Lighter Bodied Dry Red Table Wine for Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009.

Other Trophy winners were

Nautilus Estate Marlborough CuvéeBest Sparkling Wine
Lawson's Dry Hills Riesling 2008Best Aromatic Wine
Intrepid Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010Best Lighter Bodied Dry White Table Wine
Lamont Wines Bendigo Pinot Noir 2007Best Pinot Noir
Pebble Row Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010Best Value Dry White Table Wine

All of the Sydney results can be found by navigating the pages of the official websites -

Gold Medal Update

I'm updating my Recent Show Results page with the gold medal results from these two shows. More on that tomorrow.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 27th 2011

Three Sauv Blancs show varietal diversity

Think all New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs taste the same? Then think again. Line up a selection of sauvs and you'll quickly see the difference both on the nose, in the palate and on the lingering aftertaste.

'Apples', 'passionfruit and herbs', and 'gooseberry' were the most striking descriptors for my three five star-rated wines in this very palatable tasting exercise. One of these descriptors summed each wine up succinctly.

Palliser Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc (pictured left) is the 'apple' wine. It's very fresh with salad greens and herb-infused aromas and a lightly oily texture that gives a lovely rounded mouthfeel with grass, tropical fruit and creamy apples. Apple is an oft-used descriptor by me for Palliser's sauvy wine - something related to Martinborough, I think.

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (in the middle) is the 'passionfruit and herb' wine. It's powerfully aromatic in the best possible way and bracingly fresh to the taste with delicious juicy flavours crammed full of passionfruit and peach with summer herbs and a zesty vibrancy all the way from the start to the long lasting finish.

Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (pictured right) is the 'gooseberry' wine with inviting aromas of gooseberry, cut grass, summer herbs and citrus, while gooseberry and capsicum fill the fresh, tangy palate together with lime, tangelo, herbs and zest. Compared to the others it seems a little more restrained, and in exhibiting that trait it's a little more 'sophisticated' too. But what I like most about this wine is the textural softness that offset the vibrant acidity.

Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to read the review.

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

The future is a promise to nobody

As New Zealanders come to terms with the force of nature that has struck Christchurch, the garden city, so violently, my thoughts are with everyone who is waiting in anguish on news of  missing loved ones and I share the sorrow of those who have lost family and friends. When the death toll is finally revealed, it will be shocking. This is New Zealand, the 'Shaky Isles' and Christchurch has been shaking since September 4th last year. That earthquake was larger on the Richter Scale, but the earthquake on Tuesday February 22nd was shallower and close to the central business district, with buildings collapsing and brickwork tumbling.Photo courtesy NZ Herald Being in business hours, the effects are devastating and heartbreaking and the images of buildings reduced to rubble - where it is known people are trapped inside - are shocking. The iconic Christchurch Cathedral, the most recognisable Christchurch landmark, which has lost it spire, sums it up succinctly (before / after photo courtesy NZ Herald - click for more). The emotional effects will be long term. This is no time to discuss wine.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 20th 2011

Hunters Rieslings have Heritage

There was a new initiatiative at this weekend's 2011 Royal Easter Wine Show with cellared wines judged alongside current releases. It's the 'Heritage' category and wines are entered as a set comprising of a current vintage wine with two earlier vintages each three or four years older. Of the 26 sets entered, just six made the short list for the first Heritage Award to be announced with all the other trophy winners on the 19th March.  The short list is

Hunters Marlborough Riesling, 2010, 2007 and 2004
Stoneleigh Riesling 2010, 2007 and 2004
Johanneshof Cellars Marlborough Gewurztraminer, 2010,2007 and 2004
Esk Valley Estate Reserve Chardonnay, 2009, 2006, and 2002
Akarua Pinot Noir, 2009, 2006 and 2002
Villa Maria Estate Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2009, 2005 and 2001

I was particular interested in the result, especially as I tasted the Hunters 2004 and 2007 Rieslings alongside each other a little while ago.  The wines were truly stunning. It's no secret that Riesling is one grape variety that will age, so I have to say I'm surprised to see only two wines in the short list although I have no idea what was entered.  It's also exciting to see Johanneshof Gewurztraminer in the short list because despite what is commonly said about Gewurztraminer not being a wine variety for long term cellaring, the Johanneshof's definitely do. We drank Johanneshof Gewurztraminer 2004 last April - as I described it then, "Light gold, surprisingly youthful looking, with gorgeous, nectar-like, lightly viscous mouthfeel and delicate spice and ginger flavours."

Bob Campbell MW, the chair of the three-person judging panel, said, "Because high quality New Zealand wines are a relatively recent arrival on the world wine scene and because they tend to be released and consumed relatively quickly their ability to age gracefully is seldom considered. It is hardly surprising that many New Zealand wines do age well. They are the product of a cool climate with the sort of acidity and pH levels that winemakers from warmer areas can only dream about. Furthermore, the producers of some of the country’s best wines refuse to compromise quality by making their wines more accessible and earlier maturing. For their sake, and for the benefit of the entire wine sector, it’s timely to consider how well our wines age and to acknowledge those wines that perform with distinction. "

hunters-rr.jpg (17156 bytes)It's time I highlighted these terrific Hunter's Rieslings, so here are my reviews and although tasted three years ago, it's probably a reflection of how the 2010 and 2007, respectively, look now.

Hunter's Marlborough Riesling 2007 - perfumed with tropical fruit and sherbet and sweet citrussy zest, the aromas are fresh and bright. The tangy zest carries through to the bright and lightly spritzy palate. Light, zesty, fresh and clean with moderate vinous concentration and loads of fizzy fruit sherbet, there's the merest hint on honey with a subtle yet persistent finish. The back label says 'dry' yet to me it is 'off dry'. 8.4g/l rs. 12.5% alc.

Hunter's Marlborough Riesling 2004 - A little more golden in colour with a yellow glint, the floral and lime-rich scents have a biscuity nuance - like lemon delights. There's honeysuckle laced with tangelo and lime zest too. Concentrated citrus in the palate, fresh yet toasty, quite dry and racy with a honey character balancing the acidity and sweetening the finish. Gentle in its attack but with great length and flavours of tropical fruit and Tahitian lime lingering deliciously. I close my eyes and imagine myself on a tropical island, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, the ripples gently breaking on the sand, the ceviche of freshly caught fish marinating in coconut and Tahitian lime with fresh juicy pineapple on the side. 7g/l rs. 13% alc.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 15th 2011

Who really planted Marlborough's first grapevine?

An article flashing through the newswires today raised my hackles. It basically said the first grapevine in Marlborough was named Dan after the grandson of one of the people who helped to set up Montana's first vineyard.  It's a good story, but if only all the facts were true. The first vine at Brancott Estate is probably the grapevine in question but it would be good if both local and International journalists could do some research and acknowledge more regularly in articles about Marlborough and indeed New Zealand wine that there was grapegrowing in Marlborough before Montana (now known as Brancott and owned by international drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard).

Cynthia Brooks' marvellous book, Wines & Marlborough Vines (1992), should be consulted for a history of the region. Indeed, as Susan #2 commented on the Stuff website where this story first appeared, before the misinformation proliferated through blogs, twitter, facebook and newsfeeds galore, David Herd was around in the 1800s. Together with Charles Empson, the vineyard at Auntsfield was developed and was the first 'commercial' vineyard in Marlborough in 1873, 100 years before Montana. This is why David Herd has a statue at Marlborough airport.

There may have been hobby vineyards before that and Brooks writes, "There is some confusion as to whether the house and vineyard on the Herd Property, known as Auntsfield, were already there when David Herd took it over or whether he established it on his own account."

Other growers before Montana that are totally ignored are Paynter, Freeth, Patchett and Monsoor Peters.

PS The first vine at Brancott was planted by Mr Justice Beattie, a former Montana Wines chairman and later known as Sir David Beattie, the Governor-General of New Zealand.

Update Feb 16th

Alistair writes, as a comment on the Stuff website, article that grapes were grown in Marlborough probably at least 20 years before the 1873 vineyard of Empson and Herd. He writes, "The first grapevine planted in Marlborough was planted . . .  most likely personally by Wairau/Waihopai founder settler, David Monro at his original Bankhouse property around 1850 - after he imported a dozen canes of Italian vinestock from Europe, some for wine and others for tablegrapes to plant at his homestead there."

It's a fascinating snippet of history. The Bankhouse property, for many years a sheep station, is now owned by Winegrowers of Ara. It is one of the largest winery holdings in Marlborough.

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

Peaches and Soljans Chardonnay

The peaches are amazing this year. Despite January having the highest rainfall on record, there is very little evidence of brown rot in my Golden Queens – just on the windfalls, mainly. The peaches are my precursor to the quality of the grape harvest and with the heat we've been having in Auckland, I'm sure it won't be long before the grapes are being picked. We're usually beaten by Gisborne, however, and I wouldn't be surprised if they started picking there this week.peaches.jpg (83236 bytes)

With so many peaches, it's been exciting to find new ways to eat them. Here a just a few.

Peach and coriander omelette - lashings of coriander (cilantro) in with the eggs, the peach sauteed with spring onion for the filling and the sweetness brought into check with a squeeze of lemon.
Peach and yoghurt and Thai basil smoothie.

Peach and pear salad – yes , the pears are ripening up nicely too
Peach soup
Peach pizza

Dinner – there are so many ways for mains with pork and chicken, and desserts of course, but these are new:
Peaches wrapped in bacon – a delicious aperitif
Peach, tarragon and chicken salad – one of Neil's inventions, and it was a cracker - and the peach dressing will take a simple rocket and summer herb salad to another level.

And in between, at any time, simply fresh peach.

My favourite wine combo with Golden Queens is Chardonnay although we accompanied the peaches wrapped in bacon with Champagne Henriot Souverain and that was rather delish. Chardonnay is drunk more often than Champagne in this house and this one I'm reviewing was a hit.

Soljans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2010 is one of the first from last year's vintage that I've tasted. It's ripe, fresh and juicy with subtle vanillin oak interweaving beautifully with fleshy, peach fruit flavours. It has a little bit of creaminess, a touch of spiciness, a rounded mouthfeel allowing it to slip down easily then a zing of citrus a bonus on the finish. 4.5 stars. $19 from, the first winery you arrive out of Auckland on the Kumeu Wine Trail.

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

Sideways goes Vertical

I'm looking forward to the movie version of Rex Pickett's new book, Vertical, the sequel to the hit film, Sideways, which won an Oscar for Best Writing and had four other nominations including Best Picture. Will Paul Giamatti take the lead role of Miles again? I truly hope so. Will Thomas Haden Church play Jack?

In an interview with W Blake Grey in the online wine magazine Palate Press, Pickett explains that Vertical picks up the story with a successful Miles overwhelmed with wine and hot women. He is paying Jack to be his sidekick and Pinot Noir is still the holy grail. But the story turns, as all good stories do and Pickett says that Vertical could be a difficult book for Sideways fans expecting another fun romp with Miles and Jack.

It's a fascinating interview and a fascinating insight to the plot and the real life situations that inspired Pickett's novels. Click here to read it all.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 9th 2011

Air New Zealand wins sky high wine awards

The annual Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky competition, competed for by 36 airlines this year, has announced that Air New Zealand won the Best Business Class Red and Best Presented Wine List. But Australia's airline, Qantas, flew away with Best First Class White, First Class Red and First Class Sparkling, as well as Best Business Class Cellar, Best First Class Cellar and Consistency of Wines Across Business and First Class.

The awards have been held since 1985 and recognise the best business and first class wines served by airlines worldwide. Click here for more on the awards.

The Air New Zealand winners and achievements were: -

Business Class Red
1.Matariki Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007
5.Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008

Business Class Fortified and Sweet
4. Coopers Creek Reserve Marlborough Late Harvest Riesling 2009

Best-presented Wine List
1. Air New Zealand

Best Business Class Cellar
2. Air New Zealand

It should be noted that Air New Zealand no longer operates First Class so couldn't compete in a number of classes.  Perhaps someone should run a competition for economy class wines too.

* * * * *

New Wine and Food TV Shows

Talking about Air New Zealand, have you seen the new food show, Great Food Escape, on TV3? Air NZ consultant chefs Geoff Scott and Rex Morgan share recipes that are served on Air NZ Business Class while winemaker, wine judge and Air NZ wine consultant Kate Radburnd shares the wine matches selected for these dishes. Nice to see what us economy class travellers are missing. It airs on TV3 on Saturdays at 7 pm.

And talking about foodie shows, I caught up with Harvest on FoodTV, although sadly it was after the show's debut. Wish I had known it was on as I would have scheduled it on MySky and let all my readers know too. Anyway, Michael Dearth, a passionate foodie and owner of one of Auckland's top restaurants, The Grove, teams up with wine lover Sierra Reed to cavort around the country visiting the Family of Twelve winemakers. Michael creates a food dish for a featured wine and Sierra drinks the wine. It looks like two Family of Twelve members are featured each episode, which probably means the series is nearing an end. It currently screens on FoodTV on Fridays at 9.30 pm.

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

New Zealand Reserve Pinot Noir

Today, because it is New Zealand' National Day, Waitangi Day, we opened a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir. How many New Zealand Pinot Noirs are there? Hundreds. But this is a unique one. Labelled New Zealand Reserve Vintage 2000, this is a blend of wines from the 64 producers who attended NZ's first national Pinot Noir celebration in Wellington in 2001.

According to the back label, the 2000 vintage was spectacular. The wine was matured in 50% new French oak and on bottling showed youthful exuberant fruit flavours, great structure, texture and early evidence of barrel maturation. "It will continue to develop added complexity and interest over a number of years".

nzpnres.jpg (4430 bytes)So, ten years after the release of this wine, how is it? Well, it is still remarkably good, actually. The dark garnet colour has orange flecks to the edges but stills shows reasonable depth to the translucent hue. The aroma is earthy, savoury and just a little stinky with that sexy, hard to describe, pinot appeal, and a fruity nuance like old strawberry jam. In the mouth the flavours are lovely and savoury and although not really fruity (except perhaps for a hint of rhubarb on the finish), it has a mouthfilling vinosity / vinous sweetness. There's a layer of subtle orange-infused chocolate - so there's still acidity in this wine that's holding it nicely. The wine has structure, the tannins are satiny and the aftertaste is pleasantly long.   We gave it the thumbs up.

This bottle had a good cork, apart from the fact it broke in half on extracting, the wine had not travelled more than 3-4 mm up the sides. It was such a relief after the bottle we opened in January 2007 had a bad cork and the contents were tipped down the drain.

If you want to know more about this wine, and who contributed to it, check out this report, posted 10 years ago.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 5th 2011

Surprising 'Red Bubbles' Gift

Someone gave us a bottle of rosé from SouthWest France. It was promptly put in the fridge so was well and truly chilled when the time to crack the screwcap finally came, some weeks later.

Labelled Flambant Bulles Rouges, in the clear bottle the colour was as dark as blackcurrant juice and when poured, there was fizz. Maybe that should have been obvious from the bubbles on the label as well as the fact that bulles translates to bubbles, but I didn't make the connection just then

More fizz than just spritz, it was lightly sparkling I would say, or petillant as the French say. And sparkling and effervescent is how I would describe the enticing berry fruit aromas and the juicy, fresh fruit taste. Sweet, yet savoury and just a little spicy, it was bursting with sunshine and ripe fruits of the forest, the delicious taste jumping up and down on the tongue and bouncing off the sides of the cheeks. A big thank you to Dawn for this ebullient and very yummy experience.

Made by Nicolas Gelis at Chateau Montauriol in the Mid Pyrenees (AOC Fronton), it's a blend of 85% Negrette – a grape from Cyprus - and 5% Syrah. And best of all, only 8% alcohol. But keep it away from the kids, because they'll probably love it too.

Is it the Negrette that makes this wine such a joy?

Evidently this wine was imported into New Zealand by Life Style Wines, but sadly their website no longer lists the product. Such a shame because this is the best sunshine tipple I've had in a long time.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 3rd 2011

You get what you pay for

The wine stacks at the end of the fruit section in the first aisle of the supermarket had a $5 special. "Look at this," said Neil. It was Butterfish Bay Pinot Gris 2008, from a vineyard in Northland, on Pauwhenua Island. I had reviewed one of their PG's most favourably. But was it this one? I wasn't sure so we took a punt.

But when we got home and tasted the wine, it did not taste very nice at all. Although clear and bright in the glass, the flavour was of oxidised apples - an apple flavour of the wrong kind.

I looked up my review – I had reviewed the 2009. Yes, vintage does make a difference.

So the 2008 was relegated to cooking. What better time to made a Chicken and Mushroom in White Wine Sauce Pie?

Spring onions, mushrooms and garlic were sauteed in butter and olive oil and then the wine was added to reduce – the remainder of what was in my glass first, which I happily watched sizzle away, then more to make up about a cup of wine in total. Fennel-infused salt, pepper, fresh tarragon and parsley provided the seasonings. A little milk, mixed with cream (about 1/4 cup in total), provided additional liquid and this was thickened with a flour andwater slurry.

chicken pieA boneless piece of chicken thigh was sliced and sauteed in a little oil and butter with salt and pepper. This was stirred into the mixture, pan juices and all, and the whole lot was piled into a puff pastry-lined pie dish – the pastry had blind baked while I was making the filling. A piece of uncooked pastry was placed on top, pricked and glazed with milk to bake for about 20 minutes - until the pastry had puffed up and was golden in hue.  It was divine.

So if you want cooking wine that you are going to reduce all the nasty flavours out of, this $5 wine is one I would recommend. But for drinking? No! Never!  It's one reason why you should trust and support your independent wine retailer. They won't let wines like this through their door.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 2nd 2011

NZ wineries safe in mass sell off

The news of Constellation Brand's big wine asset sell off was buzzing around the tweets and newswires in December. It was of particular note was that the largest wine company in the world was selling its Australian, UK and South African assets. Among the listed brands being sold off were Hardys, Houghtons and Banrock Station. The sale was finalised today and now those brands belong to a new company called Accolade Wines - now the largest wine producer in Australia.

Hang on. Hardy (aka BRL Hardy) is the company that bought New Zealand's Nobilo Wines in 2000, including the Selaks brand that Nobilo acquired in 1998. Then BRL Hardy was acquired by Constellation in 2003 and the New Zealand-owned company, which had become Australian, now was a multitude of American-owned brands. Kim Crawford Wines also became part of the conglomerate, when Vincor, the company that owned that Kim Crawford label, was taken over by Constellation in 2006.

But it seems Constellation has faith in its New Zealand assets and they are not part of the sell off because Nobilo, Selaks and Kim Crawford, and other labels such as Drylands and Monkey Bay, are being retained. With their NZ headquarters in Kumeu, just north west of Auckland, these iconic Kiwi labels are some of Constellation's most profitable brands.

Being part of one of the world largest wine companies does not mean that quality is sacrificed for quantity. That's my opinion after tasting the new Selaks Winemaker's Favourite wines.

Selaks Winemaker's Favourite Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to check out the review.

Hopefully the Selaks brand will never disappear. It's a label entrenched in New Zealand wine history, dating back over 100 years.

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