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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: March 2011
Mar 30th: A bloody harvest, by Jove
Mar 29th: Pinotage comes of age
Mar 27th: Muddy Water turns grey
Mar 23rd: Going ga-ga over Gewurztraminer
Mar 22nd: Harvest Moon in Hawkes Bay
Mar 18th: New wine blogs I like
Mar 14th: Persimmons and Pinot Gris
Mar 13th: Mighty Te Mata
Mar 9th: Quake impacts wineries and Seductive Pinot Noirs from here
Mar 6th: Seductive Pinot Noir from elsewhere
Mar 2nd: Auckland harvest underway
Mar 1st: Gold Medal Update
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 30th 2011

A Bloody Harvest, by Jove

I made the short drive north of Auckland yesterday to Heron's Flight Vineyard in Matakana to check out the harvest of Sangiovese grapes. An Italian grape variety, it's name comes from Latin Sanguis Jove which literally translates to 'blood of Jove', Jove also being the Roman God Jupiter, hence it's also sometimes called 'blood of Jupiter'.

Sangiovese seems to relish the Matakana conditions and the grapes were ripe and juicy despite the weekend's torrential rain. 

davidh.jpg (61009 bytes)Owner David Hoskins said if he was stilling growing Bordeaux varieties he may not have had a crop to pick this year. The temperamental climate and vintage variations make it difficult to make good wine every year. This was the reason David made the bold decision to replace his Bordeaux varieties with Sangiovese, and later Dolcetto. The Italian grapes make good wine regardless of the weather. "It doesn't matter what Brix we pick it at, because Sangiovese doesn't have any green leafy characters," he says.

The grapes picked yesterday will not be good enough for 'reserve' status however. But the later ripening rows near the winery will be picked in a couple of weeks and they could make 'reserve' status if the gods play into his hands.

I also had a sneak preview of the latest wines, including a newly fermented 2011 Dolcetto - vivid in colour, brightly aromatic and impressionably fruity. it's be made in an early drinking style and is planned for release in December.

The 2010 Dolcetto is rich, ripe and concentrated with heaps of flavour. It has a powerful fruit profile with chocolate, a herbal undertone, tobacco and anise.

The 2010 Sangiovese wines were interesting. Winemaker Justin Oliver has made three batches, one fermented entirely in old oak barrels, one fermented in tanks then put into older oak for aging and another, with about 50% new oak, that's destined for a 'reserve' label.  The striking thing about all batches was the colour and concentration.

The next release will be a 2009 Sangiovese and Dolcetto blend, the premium wine from the vintage that year. Quite savoury with the bouquet offering up oak and spices that are a little reminiscent of anise, it's firm in its tannin structure, and savoury and leathery with a bright acid undernote, then creamy oak and concentrated fruit  - early season plums, cherries and strawberry, which David says comes primarily from the Dolcetto, then tobacco notes on the finish. The fruit, oak and tannins are still at the courting stage, but with another six months in the bottle, at least, they may be engaged. So the wine will be softer and more integrated by the time it is released. 

Heron's Flight cellar door is at the Plume Vineyard Restaurant at 49A Sharp Road Matakana, at the top of the Heron's Flight driveway. You'll also find David at the Matakana Markets every Saturday with his wine, wine vinegars, verjus, grape juice and preserves made from produce grown on the property.

They have their Neuerwine Harvest Festival coming up on the 10th April where you will be able to taste new wine fermenting - perhaps even wine from the grapes picked yesterday. The festival takes place at the Heron's Flight Winery at the bottom of the driveway and entry is free. Check out for details.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 29th 2011

Pinotage comes of age

March has been a bit of a pinotage fest with the stunning Kaapzicht Pinotage 2007 from the home of Pinotage, South Africa, tasted at First Glass Wednesday tasting a couple of weeks ago - a truly remarkable wine, it was tasted blind and seduced the palates of the 70 or so people in attendance, who didn't know what they were drinking. It really was the surprise of the night.

Then Muddy Water Pinotage 2009 from Waipara in the South Island, and Kidnapper Cliffs Pinotage 2009 from Hawkes Bay in the North Island were side by side at home the other night.  You can read about Muddy Water below, but the Kidnapper Cliffs is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to read the review.

These are remarkable Pinotage wines and the Kidnapper Cliffs in particular is one of the best New Zealand full-bodied reds I've tasted.

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

Muddy Water turns grey

It really was quite sad to hear that Muddy Water in Waipara has been sold and that winemaker Belinda Gould is now out of a job.

Muddy Water has stamped their name on the Waipara wine scene with their scintillating rieslings and their, rich, sensuous pinot noirs for many many years. But Muddy Water also grabs my attention because they are one of the few producers of wine from the pinotage grape - and I have to be New Zealand's most ardent Pinotage fan.

Muddy Water Waipara Pinotage 2009 is a deep red colour with a rich, ripe, creamy, voluptuous smelling bouquet – a rose would not smell better. The voluptuousness comes through in the full-bodied palate that's characterised by cherry and plum fruit, lashings of creamy vanillin oak and a smoky tobacco-like nuance with a profound gamey savouriness (a bit pinot noir-like in fact) welling up from deep within. With a heady 15.5% alcohol, this wine totally seduces the senses in every way - a wine that lovers of full-bodied reds will find hard to resist.

Owner Jane East says it is time to move on and I guess an offer from neighbouring vineyard, Greystone, was just too good to refuse. Life changing decisions sometimes have to be made. Jane says that Greystone's intent is to keep the brand going. Ah, but will they keep the Pinotage going? Time will see.

It's disappointing for winemaker Belinda Gould as she has effectively been made redundant in the midst of vintage when wineries will have secured their crush teams. And while I am sure this talented pinot noir (and pinotage) winemaker will receive offers from all over, Waipara is her home and she is not ready to permanently relocate. Good luck Belinda and good luck Jane in whatever the future brings.

Currently the website is still there – check it out –

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

Going ga-ga over Gewurztraminer

If you check out this week's Wine of the Week, the Astrolabe Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009, you will read my admission that Gewurztraminer is my favourite wine. It's because with Gewurztraminer I know what I am going to get. Fragrantly aromatic and powerfully flavoured, and hopefully impeccably balanced. Riesling comes a close second but the problem I have with Riesling is that often I don't know what I'm going to get. It's not the sweet / dry argument here, or lack of labelling on the bottle, its the fruit that is so inherent. Riesling has to have fruit to counterbalance the grape's natural acidity and sometimes that just doesn't happen and my mouth is filled with screeching acidity instead. Consequently I have more disappointments with Riesling than any other variety but with Gewurztraminer, I'm often contented and happy.

A gorgeous Gewurztraminer and a ravishing Riesling were served at the First Glass tasting last Wednesday night. They are benchmark styles from Europe that New Zealand winemakers should aspire to.

Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2009 ($30) took out the Trophy for Champion Gewurztraminer at last year's NZ International Wine Show. Dry in style with beguiling orange water, exotic spice and rose petal scents, it has a lightly oily texture and spicy flavours infused with smoker lollies, musk, Turkish Delight and violets with port wine magnolia on the lasting finish. Superb!

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 2006 ($44) comes from the Saar region in Germany, the Saar River being a tributary to the Mosel. A pure, unadulterated, sweet, tropical fruited Riesling with a lovely infusion of lemony zest, a tickle of spritz and some slatey nuances on the finish. It's sweet, yes, but with exactly the right amount of acidity to give impeccable balance. It's low alcohol (just 8%) and the kind of wine, that served chilled, doesn't need anything to go with it except a glass. Absolutely yum!

Check out all the reviews from last Wednesday by clicking here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 22nd 2011

Harvest Moon in Hawkes Bay

I've just arrived home from a 1200-kilometre jaunt around the middle and eastern part of the North Island taking in a couple of roads I had never travelled before. I even visited Hawkes Bay Wine Country during the road trip and it was on my agenda to visit a couple of wineries to taste wine and hopefully taste grapes as well. But on checking into the motel, a crisis erupted with one couple in our 18-car, 35-person group and I ended up helping out. So I didn't get to any wineries and had to resort to drinking some of Hawkes Bay's very good product instead.

One thing I discovered on my flash visit to Hawkes Bay Wine Country is that if you arrive and leave via the route I travelled, there are very few vineyards to be seen. We came in via the Taihape-Napier Road, infamously known as the Gentle Annie, but with only six kilometres of gravel road remaining – on the Hawkes Bay side I might add – and that gravel looking like it is ready for sealing, in a month or two's time the Gentle Annie will have become quite genteel. Turning on to the State Highway 50 towards Napier, with the lunch stop at Silky Oak Chocolates foremost on my mind, I spotted more orchards than vineyards, and no vineyards were seen from here to our motel at Westshore. Leaving Napier via State Highway 2 towards Gisborne we drove past vineyards near Esk Valley, but heading north no others were to be seen. And there were definitely none on the inland road to Rotorua via Waikaremoana. Just kilometre after kilometre of gravel and amazing scenery and bush instead.

The most incredible event on this trip was the moon set on the morning of Sunday March 20th, the lustrous globe dropping slowly in the western sky. The full moon in March is the closest to the autumnal equinox and the moon appears larger and seems to give more light than at any other time of the year. Thus, according to folklore, it provides enough light for harvest to continue through the night. It's the moon that's referred to as the 'harvest moon'.

harvestmoon.jpg (40277 bytes)

Top Napier Tip: If you are travelling with a group and have a conference room in your motel to gather in, then consider contacting Westshore Fish Café for fish and chips for dinner. They did a superb job of 35 individually wrapped crumbed fish and chip orders, the food was ready on time, it was hot when unwrapped and tasted divine.

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

New wine blogs I like

I have a list of Kiwi wine blogs on my Vinous Links page, but here are some newbies I've discovered recently and I think they are worth bookmarking.

Raymond Chan Wine Reviews – Everyone loves Raymond and for a long time we could read his super tasting notes on the Regional Wines website. But he's left Regional to concentrate on other things and Raymond Chan Wine Reviews is one of them. Okay, while I'm not sure about charging wine producers to write a review for them that you will publish a star rating for, (or maybe I have sour grapes because I didn't think of it first), Raymond has such a respected palate that I think he will make a good go of his venture.
Of course I've had a long time link to Raymond's other blog, The Wine Noter, where he writes about rare old treasures and she who must be obeyed.

Mike Spratt is the founder of Destiny Bay Wines on Waiheke Island but his blog – - is not about totally about his vineyard, winery and wines. The point of difference is his thought-provoking postings that have titivating titles, such as "Taint isn't a flavours and complexity shouldn't be an excuse", and "The mythology of wine competitions". It makes you want to click on the link and have a good read.

The Wine Guy – Gavin Hubble. Now this is interesting because for a long time I've had a link to 'The NZ Wine Guy' who is someone who working the industry but hasn't revealed his name. Are these wine guys the one and the same? Judging by the writing, I don't think so. Gavin works for Glengarry Hancocks. He has some pretty good educational stuff there, but when it comes to wine it will be interesting to see if he writes about other than Glengarry brands. Gavin doesn't have a link to me.

Do you have a New Zealand wine blog?  Are you already on my Vinous Links Page? If not, I'll be happy to link to you if you want to link back to me - it's nice to do it both ways. Click on my email - - and send through your blog details.  Send your link through if you have a winery blog too. Compiling a list of winery blogs is on my project 'to do' list.

Tasting Grapes
This weekend I'll be checking out some grapes, perhaps catching some of the harvest action, perhaps doing a spot of 'grape tasting'.

If you're in Auckland and want to taste wine grapes before they are made into wine, there's a perfect opportunity to do so at Kerr Farm Vineyard just north west of Auckland city in Kumeu Wine Country. Go to the website, click on the Contact Details and you'll find a roughly drawn mud map of how to get the vineyard at 48 Dysart Lane. They open Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.

Last year I tasted chardonnay, pinotage, sauvignon blanc and syrah grapes. It's all about the appreciation of wine.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 14th 2011

Persimmons and Pinot Gris

Last week I had a book launch. It's a book from my writers' Group, the International Writers' Workshop NZ Inc (IWW). Named Beyond the Persimmon Tree after one of the short stories in the book, it's a compilation of 100 fiction and non-fiction short stories and poems from 38 writers. I am co-editor of the book and naturally I chose the wine that we would drink at the book launch function.

If money had been no problem and if it was an ideal world and everyone liked Gewurztraminer I would have chosen the Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010, especially as I have a story in the book called The Rose of Alsace that, not surprisingly, is about gewurztraminer. But my favourite Johanneshof is around $30 a bottle and definitely not in the writers' group budget.

So I chose Pinot Gris for the launch because it's in favour with most drinkers right now. And not just any Pinot Gris but Shingle Peak Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010, the No. 1 Cuisine-rated Pinot Gris from the latest aromatics tasting (March 2011). It's not only delicious wine, but a delicious price too.

The wine went down a treat so I've chosen it as this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to check out the review.

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

Mighty Te Mata

It's official. The iconic Te Mata Estate reds, Awatea and Coleraine, are the nation's number one Bordeaux-inspired reds and they have me swooning at every annual release. And while Coleraine ($65 on special) is quite rightly held in the highest esteem, it is the Awatea that delivers quality way above its price point. The latest release, selling around $28 on special, is truly a steal.

What is truly remarkable about the Te Mata reds, and Coleraine in particular, is the longevity. Proof of this point is the 22-year-old Coleraine we opened for a special occasion birthday earlier this month. It was the spectacular 1989 vintage and on the evening, it was truly sublime. When I tasted a bottle of this wine in May 2003, I wrote that I thought it was then nearing its peak, but it has stayed on that plateau without any thought of descending.

This year's Showcase tasting included three vintages of Awatea and thee vintages of Coleraine - the 2005, 2007 and 2009 for each. The 2005 Awatea is outstanding, superb, beautiful drinking. In fact when the 2005 Awatea was poured as the first of the trio, the colour was so vivid and bright and the fruit so concentrated and intense, I questioned if the pourer if he had the right vintage. This was a tough little wine on release but tasted at last year's Showcase and again this year, the 2005 could be one of the best Awateas ever made.

As for Coleraine, well what can one say? All three showed brilliantly on the day.

We also tasted vintages of Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc, Zara Viognier and Elston Chardonnay. I found a fascinating saline thread running through the new release whites. I expect this in Viognier but wasn't so sure why it was also prominent in the Sauv and the Chard. Nick Buck explained that it is the winemaking that promotes this. Phil Brodie is now in charge of white wine production and he is doing a lot of work with yeasts and yeast lees. I really liked what I was tasting.

Check out all my reviews on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here to go straight there.

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

Quake impacts wineries

While the great Christchurch quake of February 22nd inflicted no damage to the nearby Waipara vineyards and wineries, the knock-on effects are certainly having an impact. Penelope Naish from Black Estate explains: "We are all very lucky to have businesses to carry on with. However we have all been impacted by the loss of businesses in Christchurch. Our little company has lost many of its main on premise customers in the quake. It seems so surreal to think that the communities that met in these places have no where to go and that the owners have no businesses to run."

Black Estate is donating funds from online and telephone orders to the Red Cross Earthquake Relief Fund. They'll donate $50 on 12-bottles orders and $25 on six-packs. See

I recommend the Black Estate Waipara Chardonnay 2009. Made from 15 year old Mendoza clone chardonnay grapes, this is a caramel cream Chardonnay and a delicious contrast to the lightly oaked styles that seem to be popular with some winemakers these days. Light yellow gold in colour with smoky vanillin oak and tropical fruit aromas and ripe peach and caramel cream flavours with a spicy savoury undercurrent, a delicious mealy, nutty richness and a bit of a citrus zing. Well-balanced, seamless, very drinkable and sure to appeal to lovers of the ripe, creamy styles. Online price is $32.95 a bottle. My rating 5 stars. 18.75/20.

Black Estate also produces Pinot Noir ($41) and Riesling ($22.45). Look out for my notes in the next couple of weeks.

Seductive Pinot Noir from here

Check out my latest Wine of the Week review for two delicious Central Otago Pinot Noirs. They come from the Akarua vineyard in Bannockburn, the vintage is 2009, and they are the first from Akarua's new winemaker, Matt Connell. Click here.

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

Seductive Pinot Noir from elsewhere

My sisters bought home a bottle of delicious Californian Pinot Noir after their recent skiing holiday in the USA and it was opened on the occasion of a double birthday last Wednesday.
Deep in colour with generous, full aromas of cherries and spice and powerful, richly textured, succulent flavours, the bouquet whisked me to Central Otago but the confusing thing was that the flavours were more akin to a savoury, gamey Wairarapa wine. And then, intriguingly, there was a 'cherry cola' flavour in the wine. I've heard this talked about many times on the international forums, and heard Americans describe this in some New Zealand wines, but it was my first 'hey, that's cherry cola' experience in a wine.

I'm glad we weren't playing options because had I opted for New Zealand, I would have been quite wrong.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2008 is made by Belle Glos Wines and is a blend of Sonoma County, Monterey County and Santa Barbara County fruit aged in French oak barrels. Recommended if you ever get the chance to try it. Evidently it's a value wine and on many restaurant wine lists in the USA. My sisters had the 2009 in a restaurant and swooned, but it but the 2008 was what they found in duty free in San Francisco airport. And that's the one I swooned over. Very yummy wine indeed.

My meal accompaniment was Chargrilled Eye Fillet with potato rosti, sauteed spinach, toasted almond, feta, caramelised onion, bearnaise and rich jus.  We enjoyed the wine and the meal at Long Bay Restaurant at Long Bay Beach on Auckland's North Shore. BYO wine Monday to Wednesday and delicious food worthy of very special wines. Check it out -

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

Auckland harvest underway

harvest.jpg (51029 bytes)They were picking grapes in earnest at Kumeu River in Kumeu as I drove past the vineyard today. Nets were off the Pinot Noir vines on the hill and pickers lined the rows.

Seems the pick had been coordinated to beat the weather because the tempestuous clouds on the horizon unified, the day became grey and by 4pm this afternoon, as predicted, drizzle set in.

Carrying on past Kumeu River and driving around the region, there was no other sign of harvest action.

Harvest is underway in Marlborough with the Marlborough Express reporting that Hunters picked grapes for their sparkling wine base yesterday,10 days earlier than last year. The same article indicated that Nautilus Estate would start picking their pinot noir bubbly base on Thursday but their pinot noir for table wine won't be picked until the end of the month. The sauvignon blanc harvest for Nautilus will start at the beginning of April.

Rudi Bauer at Quartz Reef in Central Otago picked his pinot noir sparkling wine base on February 21st - see this Otago Daily Times article. Rudi was quoted as saying the pick was three weeks earlier than last year.

Wrights Wines in Gisborne picked grapes for verjuice on the 14th February, the pick featuring in the Gisborne Herald. The article reported that Indevin would start harvest on February 16th. Indevin is the company that bought the old Montana winery and vineyards in Gisborne after Pernod Ricard sold off its Gisborne assets last year.  Gisborne Winegrowers president John Clarke said that the says the crops are looking good and it should be an 'average year' for Gisborne winemakers this year. According to the article, the main harvest in Gisborne should be in full swing by now.

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

Gold Medal Update

Updated 30th June 2011

If you only want to drink gold medal wines and in particular only New Zealand gold medals wines, then look no further than my Recent Show Results page right here on Here you will find a list of 462 508 wines that have won one or more gold medals in the major wine shows in New Zealand, plus the Sydney International, since this season's round of shows started in August 2010.

The shows that are listed are

  • Air New Zealand Wine Awards - judged November 2010
  • Bragato Wine Awards - judged August 2010
  • Royal Easter Show Wine Awards - judged Feb 2011
  • Hawkes Bay Wine Awards - judged October 2010
  • New Zealand International Wine Show - judged September 2010
  • International Aromatic Wine Competition - judged October 2010
  • Spiegelau International Wine Competition - judged June 2011
  • Sydney International Wine Show - judged October 2010, announced Feb 2011
  • New World Wine Awards - judged August 2010

Wines that have performed well across several competitions are

  • Johanneshof Cellars Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010 - 4 golds
  • Lowburn Ferry Home Block Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 - 4 golds
  • Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 43 Degrees Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - 4 golds
  • Waimea Nelson Classic Riesling 2009  - 4 golds
  • Akarua Central Otago Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 - 3 golds
  • Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - 3 golds
  • Clearview Estate Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2009 - 3 golds
  • Mission Estate Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009  - 3 golds
  • Forrest Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2009 - 3 golds
  • Nautilus Estate Cuvee Marlborough Brut NV - 3 golds
  • Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009  - 3 golds
  • Saint Clair Pioneer Block 2 Swamp Block Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - 3 golds
  • Saint Clair Pioneer Block 21 Bell Block Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - 3 golds
  • Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 - 3 golds
  • Thornbury Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - 3 golds
  • Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Noble Viognier 2009 - 3 golds
  • Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot 2008 - 3 golds
  • Villa Maria Single Vineyard Southern Clays Pinot Noir 2008 - 3 golds plus 2 the year before
  • Waimea Nelson Viognier 2009 - 3 golds

A number of other wines awarded one or two gold medals this season have also received gold medals before. When you look at the list, the number in the right hand column says it all.

It's a veritable melting pot of style and varieties across all price points. New Zealand wine drinkers are simply spoiled for choice.

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