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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: June 2011
Jun 30th: More Gold Medal winners announced
Jun 29th: Wine of the Week: Riverby Noble Riesling 2009
Jun 26th: First Glass Wine Options - the 2011 event
Jun 25th: Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 1998 and slow cooked mushrooms
Jun 24th: Cuisine magazine's top Shiraz and Syrah tasting
Jun 24th: Coming soon and a Fromm star
Jun 21st: Short Days, Long Nights and Matariki
Jun 18th: Gewurztraminer at the Negociants NZ Roadshow
Jun 17th: Pinot Gris vibes from the Negociants NZ Roadshow
Jun 16th: Be Cos - Europeans at the Negociants NZ Roadshow
Jun 15th: Great Gewurztraminers from the 2009 vintage
Jun 12th: A tasting with Alastair Maling MW
Jun 11th: Does Viognier age?
Jun 9th: Vibes from the Eurovintage Roadshow
Jun 8th: Breidecker - something you don't see every day
Jun 6th: Queen's Birthday Honours to viticulturists
Jun 5th: Treasure from the cellar - St Jerome
Jun 4th: A kiwi take on matching food with Gewurz
Jun 2nd: Gossip Wire - Stonyridge, Mudbrick, Pay for reviews, etc
Jun 1st: Waiheke Winegrowers come to town: 2011
Older Entries

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

More Gold Medal winners announced

I've just added another 46 wines to my New Zealand wines gold medal list bringing the tally of gold medal winners for the 2010-2011 New Zealand wine show year (August 2010 to June 2011) to 508. The additional wines are the gold medal winners from the Gisborne Regional Wine Awards and the new Spiegelau International Wine Competition. The latter competition was introduced to fill the gap left by the demise of the Liquorland International.

Of the 13 golds awarded at the Gisborne show, all were virgin golds, however two of the wines also went gold the following month in the Spiegelau competition. Villa Maria Barrique Fermented Gisborne Chardonnay 2009 was the overall Champion in the Gisborne show.

Of the 68 golds awarded at the Spiegelau competition, 52 were from New Zealand and 33 of these were virgin gold medal winners in this season, although one, Charles Wiffen Gewurztraminer 2009, won gold last year.

The Spiegelau trophies are announced on the 8th July. The list will be updated again after that, then the new 'show season', when we'll see the first of the 2011 wines vying for medals, gets underway.

Click here to check out all the gold medal wines.

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

Wine of the Week: Riverby Noble Riesling 2009

Have you ever seen botrytised grapes? From most of the pictures I have seen it's not a pretty sight. Berries shrivelled into raisins and covered in mould. But it's a prized mould called Botrytis cinerea and incredibly it's the magic ingredient in the world's best sweet wines. It is reverently called noble rot.  This week's Wine of the Week is made from rotten grapes. It's Riverby Estate Noble Marlborough Riesling 2009. It looks like liquid gold and tastes like nectar, with tangy lime and tangelo flavours providing delectable acidity and brightness. It is a fantastic accompaniment to tangelo and coconut syrup cake. The Trophy winner in the sweet wine category at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, judged in February, and now a gold medal winner in the new Spiegelau International Wine Competition, judged last week. Could it be the trophy winner in this competition too. All will be revealed at the Awards dinner on July 8th. In the meantime, click here to read my story about sweet wines in this week's Wine of the Week review.

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

First Glass Wine Options - the 2011 event

This year saw the 29th consecutive year of a wine options competition hosted by Kingsley Wood. Now known as the First Glass Wine Options, it attracted 37 teams to test their palates against each wine poured into their glass and the straightforward options. Easy for me to say straightforward, as I wasn't competing. Of those who did, the team that came up trumps was The Rat Pack: Al Barino, Sam Giovese, Marilyn Merlot and Cher Donnay aka Lee and Niv Findlay and Penny and Malcolm Meads. Niv and Malcolm regularly compete with Steve and Julie Macfarlane, as they planned to do this year, but with the Macfarlanes living in Brisbane and having booked their flights with Qantas, the ash cloud put paid to those plans. They'll be proud that Lee and Penny helped to take the team to a win, claiming back the trophy they won in 2009.

In second place was Last Minute Charlie: Nicky Grandorge, Simon Humphries, Elle Pitts and Tim Mills.

In 3rd place was Dyslexic Drinkers: Bill Hird, Tricia Dunlop, Kay Morganty and Sam Kim.

In 4th place place, and winners of the trophy for the competition within a competition for trade teams, was The Big Bad Wolf and Three Squealing Pigs, representing Treasury Wine Estates.

Some stunning wines were poured

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007
Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Viognier 2009 - Bonus Wine 1
Taylors St Andrews Clare Valley Riesling 2005
Albert Mann Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2009 (France)
Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon 2003 - Bonus Wine 2
Forrest Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2009
Trinity Hill Homage Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007
Kaazpicht Pinotage 2007 (South Africa) - Bonus Wine 3
Lamont Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
Alpha Zeta Amarone 2007 (Italy)
Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - Bonus Wine 4
Saltrams No 1 Barossa Shiraz 2006

Great costumes this year - the winners were Beatrytis the Noble Rot - it was lots of fun, and kudos to the team named The Kingsley's Speech and the Kingsley masks they made for everyone in the room to hold up in front of their faces at the start of wine 2.

See more photos from the competition on the First Glass website at this link.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 25th 2011

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 1998 and slow cooked mushrooms

As usual, on a Friday, I'm trying to update my blog around dinner time. As usual, on a Friday, he brings me a glass of wine. The wine in the glass tonight is a tawny red colour with some density to the core but quite bricky and translucent on the edges. It's a pongy-smelling old wine and tastes acidic and leathery. But then I taste underlying strawberry fruit that is ripe and sweet. Woody herbs and orange peel come into play to be tempered by chocolate and cakespice. The taste is now rich with a cake cherry succulence and the tannins are silky and fine. There's an earthysavouriness but that 'sweaty leather' character is a little disconcerting. Is this what a thirteen-year-old 1998 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago Pinot Noir is meant to taste like? Like the inside of dirty old boots?

Some people will simply adore the grubbiness of this wine. I preferred the lingering finish, when my mouth had 'washed' the dirt off. After a while the bottle stink come off the aroma but it never left the palate.  I didn't really enjoy it until it came time to eat because the remarkable thing about this wine was how it complemented the food. Sirloin steak, slow cooked mushrooms and baked potato crisps. Particularly the slow cooked mushrooms, cooked so slowly they were a taste explosion of sweet earthy mushroomy deepness and concentration. It was my fault, really, that this mushroom miracle happened because I knew if I didn't finish my blog before dinner, it wouldn't get done at all. So the mushrooms were turned off, then on again, then off again, and finally on again to reheat when I said I was ready for the steak to go on. And that's also the reason the oven baked slices of potatoes turned into crisps. Rather yummy, however.

Neil's Slow Cooked Mushrooms: Clean and slice half-a-dozen white button mushrooms into 1-cm slices. Put 2-tablespoons of butter into a saucepan to melt. Then add the mushrooms together with whole sprigs of thyme picked from the garden, salt, pepper and a smidgen of ground fennel for seasoning. Simmer on the lowest heat for about 45 minutes. Turn off until closer to serving. Bring them back up to heat again and simmer for a while. Repeat, if necessary. In total they cooked for about an hour. The liquid gets totally absorbed by the mushrooms, yet the mushrooms stay moist enough and don't burn. Remove the sprigs of thyme before serving. Enjoy with a stinky old pinot.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 24th 2011

Cuisine magazine's top Shiraz and Syrah tasting

One of the most eagerly awaited First Glass Wednesday tastings, besides the Cuisine magazine top chardonnay tasting of course, is Cuisine magazine's top Aussie shirazes. This year the magazine combined the Aussie shirazes with the NZ syrahs in the issue, although the wines from each country were tasted separately. So the tasting was Cuisine's take on the best of Australia and the best of New Zealand. There were to be some vinous delights in store.

The top three NZ syrahs were tasted - in order of the Cuisine rating they were Sacred Hill Halo Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 (No. 1), Arrow Junction Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 (2) and Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 (No. 3). I had tasted the Halo before and given it a rating of 4.5 stars. That was in April and I thought it needed just a little more time. Tonight the wine seemed very harmonious. But it was the multi-awarded Elephant Hill that I preferred most of these three at Wednesday's night tasting. Perhaps because it was so juicy and succulent and better without food. All very good wines, anyway.

The Australians really know how to do it and it was nice to see perhaps a mini blockbuster, rather than a massive blockbuster come through as Number 1. The Rosemount District Release McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 ticked all the boxes for me. I'm also loved the number 2 wine, Thorn Clarke Shotfire Barossa Shiraz 2008. A new vintage, but a definite star.

A tasty ring-in on the night was Laplace Madiran 2009. It's named for where it comes from in south west France rather than what is is made from, which is 100% tannat. It was bright, juicy and incredibly floral - like the flowers of Michelia figo (port wine magnolia, bubblegum tree). I thought with intense purple black colour, the florals and spice and the incredibly supple tannins it could be syrah co-fermented with Viognier. How wrong I was! I didn't even pick Northern Hemisphere and as this was a 'stand-up' options wine, I had to sit down on the very first question. A very modern tasting wine.

Check out all my Wednesday tasting notes by clicking here.

Scroll down on that page and you'll see last week's notes too from that tasting called 'A Mixed Bag' My favourite red that night was Cantine due Palme Tenuta Albrizzi 2007 from Salento, Italy - a very impressive blend of 50% Primitivo and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Also loved the fabulous Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Founders Reserve Shiraz 2007. White wine of the night was Waimea Nelson Viognier 2009.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 24th 2011

Coming soon and a Fromm star

This has been one of my busiest weeks on my wine tasting calendar, perhaps one of my busiest months. I actually prefer tasting wine in my home - tasting the wines on their own, sometimes both chilled and unchilled depending on the variety, then matching with food. But occasionally I leave the house. The distributor's trade shows are hard work, but it's interesting to see how many producers a distributor is representing, as well as being able to catch up with winemakers at these events. Then there are the individual producers who do functions and these I rarely go to. But I do make exceptions. And two of those exceptions happened this week. One was a tasting of Grant Taylor's Gibbston Vineyard pinot noirs, from his first harvest off the vineyard in 2003 to the latest release. The other was a lunch - yes a lunch - with Sam Weaver of Churton Wines. I've been following Sam's wines almost right from the beginning. In fact I was his first mail order customer. I like his more restrained winemaking style. With the Hot Red and White Hawkes Bay tasting yesterday and the Cuisine Top Aussie Shiraz and NZ Syrah tasting on Wednesday, the notebooks are now bulging with scribbles, soon to be digitally translated.

But I just want to mention a couple more highlights from the Negociants Roadshow last week. Firstly Alpha Domus The Aviator 2007 - sensational! Reviewed as a Wine of the Week in January 2010, this blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and malbec was gorgeous back then, but it's now even better with another 18 months of bottle age. "Shows outstanding potential," I wrote at the Roadshow. A top Hawkes Bay red.

When I visited the Fromm stand, after my Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer circuits, the Fromm Spatlese Riesling 2008 had gone. It was the only wine in the main room to run out, as far as I know. Winemaker William Hoare emptied the drips from each bottle into my glass. A sweet, honeyed, citrussy deliciousness whispered through my mouth. 

But it was the Fromm La Strada Syrah 2009 that really had me singing. This is an opulent looking red with a muscular veneer. It's dark and peppery on the nose with boysenberry that expands beautifully across the palate where a chocolatey richness emerges. There's an incredible succulence and juiciness with a suppleness to the tannins - perhaps a result of the 4 percent Viognier co-ferment. And the pepper kicks in again on the back palate, lingering with a touch of chicory. Syrah from Marlborough - yes, indeed. And Fromm shows how to do it with flair.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 21st 2011

Short Days, Long Nights and Matariki

When is the shortest day of the year? According to my sun & moon ephemerides for the latitude and longitude coordinates of Auckland, both the 21st and 22nd June have a sunrise at 7.34 am, a sunset at 17.11 and a daylight duration of 9.37 hours. So those who say the 21st and those who say the 22nd are both correct where I am.

However, the actual Winter Solstice occurs on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 5:16 AM in Auckland. And tonight is the longest night.

For many people the Winter Solstice is becoming synonymous with celebrating Matariki - the Maori New Year – the appearance of the Matariki constellation (aka Pleiades, aka The Seven Sisters, aka M45) in the sky just before dawn. And so tonight we are drinking Matariki with a hearty beef stew. The wine accompaniment definitely made the stew taste better.

Matariki Quintology 2005 is a deep brooding red, concentrated yet succulent. It's dark crimson-black in colour with a creamy scent and a cedary veneer to the concentrated plum and red fruit flavours, mainly redcurrant and cassis, together with hints of chocolate and liquorice. Tannins are firm and velvety thick with a belt of suede and there's a spicy lift to the finish that's lingers very satisfyingly. Six years on from vintage, this is a stellar example of how a Hawkes Bay red can age and to me it's exciting that it is the current release. It's not easy to find wines that are well aged, like this, and immediately available.

A blend of 41% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11.8% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7.2%, Syrah, it is these five varieties that give this winery's icon wine its name.

Tasting this wine brings back memories of a Matariki Quintology blending day. That day, in 2005, this wine was still a baby in barrels. The wines we blended were from the year before.

The 2005 vintage sells for $80 a bottle at the cellar door, discounted to $72 a bottle when ordering a case or more. Alcohol on this wine reads 13.6 % and the bottle is sealed with a real cork.


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

Gewurztraminer at the Negociants NZ Roadshow

With vintages on show from current vintage (well 2010 – that's almost current) to five years old, it was a revelation in how well Gewurztraminer can age. In fact the only 2010 example I tried was the weakest in the whole room. Misha's The Gallery Central Otago Gewurztraminer 2010, while rather juicy, seemed just too fresh with a green apple zestiness coming through in the chilled tasting sample I was poured. This was fermented in old French oak with a 12% wild yeast component, 9g/l residual sugar and 14% alcohol. $28.

Rippon Central Otago Gewurztraminer 2009 is a year older. This was fermented with wild yeasts in a stainless steel tank that had been tipped on its side so the fermenting wine could pick up more phenolic matter. "Aromatics are a given so I'm not searching for them," says biodynamic man Nick Mills. And so the nose is restrained and the savoury flavours from the considerable lees contact come through in the palate with hokey pokey nuances and ginger and white pepper spices lingering on the gently sweet finish, although the impression up to that stage had been dry. The flavours extend in the palate and the florals that I love in Gewurztraminer blossom on the finish. He's right, you know. You don't have to go searching for it. They are already there. And the phenolics are well balanced and not intrusive. This is a wine that I'd love to see with a bit of bottle age. 11 g/l rs. 13.2% alc. $33.

Huia Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008 is a dry style, or so it seems. It has a gorgeous fragrance, textural warmth, delicate spice, a well-balanced phenolic backbone, length and power. Like the Pinot Gris (see yesterday's entry), it has 100% wild ferment with 20% old barrels with lees stirring. Unable to get to the Negociants Roadshows the last couple of years, it's nice to be re-acquainted with this producer's gewurz again. 2 g/l rs. 13.9% alc. $25 from the winery.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008 is developing beautifully. The fragrance is opulent and the flavours are succulent with a musky sweetness. I enjoyed this wine at Easter (reviewed here) and thought it stunning again today. What I want in Gewurztraminer is fragrance, texture and flavour and this ticks all the boxes. "But it's such a hard sell," says Sarah Ibbotson when I questioned if the 2008 was the current release. It is, which is good news for all you Gewurz fans who have read this far. 13.5% alc. $27.

Vinoptima Ormond Gewurztraminer 2006 is from Nick Nobilos' dedicated gewurztraminer vineyard and dedicated gewurztraminer winery in Gisborne. The dedication to making superlative gewurztraminer is evident in the taste. It smells of a honeyed sweetness with a tinge of smoke and musk. There's a cutting linearity to this wine, with a tightness behind the fine texture and flavours that are initially restrained but compound in the mouth – flavours of blossom, delicate spice and flower musk. Five years of age, but incredibly youthful both in appearance and taste, this impeccably balanced ethereal wine has 15 g/l rs and alcohol clocks in at 13% - the lowest of this quintet. But crikey, the price is going up. Wine Searcher lists this from $82 to $100 a bottle. It needs to be par excellence for this price.

I was hoping there was going to be an Alsace gewurz in the European room to compare these excellent examples to, but if there was, it had gone when I got there.

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

Pinot Gris vibes from the Negociants NZ Roadshow

At the Negociants New Zealand roadshow, held at the waterside venue of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (sans the America's Cup this time), it was a chance to see how certain styles are developing. I chose to concentrate on the consumer's favourite, Pinot Gris, followed by my favourite, Gewurztraminer, with a few reds thrown in for good measure. These tasting vibes are from my Pinot Gris circuit.

It is clear that Pinot Gris from the producers in the Negociants portfolio is taking a tangential direction. Many of the producers are using wild yeast and barrel ferment components that introduces more savoury characters, and few of the wines are dry. But I loved the fruity wines too, and one that really rocked me, was from Black Barn's David McKee.
Dave's been judging for a number of years now and he feels this has helped him develop his style.

Black Barn Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2010 – a lovely rich, ripe, fruity and quenching Pinot Gris, like biting into a chilled fresh peach. The mealy finish adds to the textural complexity and adds a touch of savouriness. Also noted was the alcohol of this wine. While many are heading to the alcohol stratosphere, this was a respectable 13.5%. I think it's gold medal quality and I hope, when he enters wine shows later this year, the judges do too.

And round the room I went - these are the wines in order of tasting, almost aphabetical.

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 – a rich, mouthfilling style, the savoury components quite dominant on entry with a stonefruit fleshiness and a mouthfilling, juicy and lightly spicy finish. On the cusp of off dry. Half of the wine was fermented in old barrels with wild yeast, the other half in stainless steel with cultured yeast.
Huia Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 – this is an earthy style in comparison to the Greywacke tasted immediately before it. The Huia has classical pear fruit, a touch of spice, hints of sage and a zesty undercurrent to the finish. Lovely texture and length. It 100% wild ferment with 20% old barrels with lees stirring.
Misha's Central Otago Dress Circle Pinot Gris 2010 – aromatic with hints of lime, this tastes leesy and savoury with almost malty notes coming through. The fruit is reminiscent of tropical guavas and pear and the aftertaste is juicy and long.
Nautilus Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 – from the Awatere Valley, this has a honeysuckle nuance to the scent and a flavour that's reminiscent of ripe pinot gris grapes eaten straight off the vine. The texture is creamy and smooth, there's a bready character coming through and a zestiness adds lift to the dry finish. 10% (the pressings) was fermented in old barrels with wild yeasts.
Opawa Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009 – from the Nauitlus family, this seems sweeter than the Nautilus, although residual sugar (4g/l) reads drier. It's the 14% alcohol that's responsible for the inferred sweetness. Tangelo, pear and a touch of anise with mid palate fatness and white pepper on the dry finish.
Ngatarawa Regional Reserve Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2009 – an aromatic lifted scent – dried pineapple comes to mind. Textural with flavours of peach, vanilla ice cream and a tickle of gingery spice. No oak or wild yeasts. Lees stirred, however.
Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Gris 2010 – a clean fruity style with quenching fruit salad flavours, a touch of spice, and a textural finish. Uncomplicated. Nice.
Urlar Martinborough Pinot Gris 2009 – fermented in old oak barrels and a mix of wild and cultured yeast, this has a lovely creamy, almost hokey pokey flavour. Texturally rich with a long finish where fruit and spice flavours linger. A gris to chew on. "This is a wine that polarises people," say Urlar's Angus Thomson.
Waipara Springs Waipara Pinot Gris 2010 – a juicy, fruity style and served chilled, as this tasting sample was, it's a quenching wine with lime and pear flavours and some obvious sweetness ( 10 – 12 g/l rs) as the flavours linger.

All in all a good line up. New Zealand pinot gris is really coming of age.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 16th 2011

Be Cos - Europeans at the Negociants NZ Roadshow

Negociants New Zealand had their annual roadshow this week and one wine that stood out, for several reasons, was Cos d'Estournel 2007. Why did it stand out?

cos.jpg (15919 bytes)1. It was Cos!
2. Cos is a classed growth Bordeaux red.
3. How many tastings do you go to where classed growths are on the table to taste?
4. Cos is one of only fifteen Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus) from the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.
5. Cos comes from the St Estephe appellation and the 2007 has 85% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot and 3% cabernet franc.
6. It stood out because I rarely get to try Bordeaux wines of this stature these days.
7. It stood out because it tasted surprisingly modern.
8. The fruit was deep and succulent, the oak was evocatively cedary and the tannins were grainy and gravelly.
9. The winemakers of the top reds in New Zealand would be on a par with this wine in a blind tasting.
10. It was Cos!

Thank you Negociants NZ for the opportunity! Prices on wine-searcher show this wine is available in New Zealand for between $202 and $343 a bottle. Now there's some drastic price variation.

Also on the European table, Guigal Saint-Joseph 2006. This is syrah, and it was in this brawny, muscular wine I recognised what I was tasting in the brawny, muscular Syrahs from Waiheke Island that I was so intrigued with the other day (see June 1st, below). While two years older than the 2008 vintage Waiheke wines I was tasting that day, the Saint-Joseph gave me an inkling how the Waiheke syrahs may mature. Now this is a cheapie, being listed at one merchant here in NZ at only $52.99 a bottle. That makes it cheaper than some of the Waiheke syrahs too. Saint-Joseph matures for about 16 months in used oak barrels.

And lastly, Burgundy grand cru - Chanson Charmes Chambertin 2006. Deep colour, aromatic, floral, spicy and sensuous. Despite the big tannins, this was simply fantastic. I haven't tasted a New Zealand pinot noir quite like this. In French oak for 16 months. No idea of the price but would guess around $200 a bottle.

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

Great Gewurztraminers from the 2009 vintage

"Have you tried the Pegasus Bay Gewurztraminer?" asked James Rowan a few months ago.
" … absolutely lovely … of the unctuous ilk! Try and track some down," he said.

Well, it was in a line-up of gewurz on the table this weekend and James was right. It was absolutely lovely. It was of the unctuous ilk. I loved it. peggw.jpg (19992 bytes)

Pegasus Bay Waipara Gewurztraminer 2009 is a pungent wine, rich, tending towards sweet with a concentrated scent of bitter orange and exotic spices and beautiful flavours of smoker lollies, violets, lavender honey, and marmalade. Soft almost oily texture with a seamless finish that tapers off gently. I scored it 19/20 in the blind tasting and later, when the label was revealed I thought, 'If this is what they can do on their first vintage of Gewurztraminer, what will the wines be like with vine age?' It has 14% alcohol and a screwcap and cost $32 on release.

When the wines were revealed I was disappointed because my husband left two bench marks out of the tasting, Johanneshof and Dry River.

"Put the Pegasus Bay and one other from this flight with the other two and make up a new flight of four," I asked him. A bit like a trophy taste-off at a wine show, except this was my showdown, no one else's.

Ah, now there are two lovely beauties of the unctuous ilk. But one had an edge over the other. On my tasting sheet just one three-letter word was written. That was "Yum!"

The wine, Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 – it's this week's Wine of the Weekclick here to check out the review.

Also in the taste-off was: -

Villa Maria Ihumatao Gewurztraminer 2009 - tight and comparison to other wines. It seems quite dry but there's a gentle sweetness with five spice powder, hints of anise and a ginger zing. Then lovely bittersweet orange notes, tempered with honey and shades of tarragon linger. Opens up over time and gets more and more complex in the glass. A wine that will age magnificently. 13.5% alc. Screwcap. $30. 18.5/20.

Dry River Martinborough Lovat Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 – this did not come up well in the tasting at room temperature, it seemed a little flabby. So into the fridge it went. Served chilled, the aroma is delicately floral, like freesia blossoms, with biscuity spices and hokey pokey/honeycomb caresses. A rich powerful wine, the taste much stronger than the aromas suggest with violets, rose water, honeycomb, biscuit spices and a lovely touch of orange blossom and bittersweet zest on the finish. Texture is creamy and almost oily, and the lingering taste is creamed honey with orange water and spices. 14% alc. Cork. 17.5/20.

The other two wines were: -

Seresin Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 – floral with rose petals, smoker lollies, mandarin peel and Asian spices, it's gentle to start with a subtle persistence. It's moderately sweet with a tongue-coating viscous texture. I just loved the flavours that lingered. 14% alc. Screwcap. $30. 18.5/20.

Mahi Twin Valleys Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 - rich and intense with quintessential Turkish delight, spice and a bitter orange scent and bright flavours of musk and Turkish delight infused with orange peel, ginger and white pepper, the spices adding heat. Texturally sublime, becoming quite floral as it lingers. 14% alc. Screwcap. $24. 18/20.

It was interesting to taste the wines both at room temperature and chilled, and then with food – the food in question was Moroccan chicken.

The Pegasus Bay, which was the only wine that turned its toes up at being chilled, did not match to the Moroccan Chicken, nor did the Seresin. However the Dry River, which was probably the sweetest of them all, seem to be enhanced considerably by the spices in the food. An interesting exercise, that's for sure.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 12th 2011

A tasting with Alastair Maling MW

If you ever get to a chance to go to a tasting with Alastair Maling MW, and he's given the chance to talk about his career, go to it. Alastair was the guest presenter at the fourth Master of Wine Series at the First Glass tastings last Wednesday. Asked to tell us about how he became an MW, he talked and we listened, enthralled. He was so interesting, I think he's the only presenter, ever, that has been allowed to talk for about 15 minutes, non-stop.

Alastair told us how lucky he was to be working out of London with Kym Milne MW while making wine all over the world as a 'flying winemaker'. Kym encouraged Alastair to sit the stringent industry qualification and became his mentor. It was an opportunity that few MW candidates have, and even fewer MW candidates who had been working in the industry for such a short time. In just seven years after his first winemaking vintage, which was in Hungary of all places, Alastair had achieved a winemaking qualification from Lincoln and in 2000 was conferred with his Master of Wine. Considering that the MW is a program takes a minimum of three years, this is some pretty spectacular feat.

Not surprisingly, with Alastair now Group Chief Winemaker with the Villa Maria Group, the wines we tasted were a snapshot from across the group's labels. We tasted chardonnays from Thornbury, Vidal and Villa Maria, followed by viognier, riesling and gewurztraminer from Villa Maria, then reds from Villa Maria, Vidal and Esk. It was a sumptuous night of top of the line labels. And on tasting the reds, it became clear, pretty quickly, that this company's top reds are made to age.

My wine of the night was the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2006 - now five years on from vintage and the aromas, textures and flavours are sensual and sublime. It has those lovely, sweet earth, forest floor (and sometimes forest wall) complexities, my favourite  bittersweet red fruits as in tamarillo and red guava, and a texture that totally seduces the palate. It proved to me that far too much pinot noir is consumed far too young - especially if they have the potential to develop like this.

Check out all the notes from the tasting on my Wednesday Roundup page.

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

Does Viognier age?

How does Viognier age? It's a question that's often asked but for so many winemakers, Viognier is a new variety and they don't have the luxury of older wines in their library. But one winery that does is Te Mata. And some of us have old bottles lying around too.

Te Mata Woodthorpe Hawkes Bay Viognier 2001 (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand) is an intriguing wine. It has a colour of a light golden topaz that's been faceted to show off its brilliance. The aroma is a little like dried hay and allium flowers outside the farm shed where the cows were a couple of days ago but now the quad bike has been started for the early morning rounds and a whiff of petrol lingers in the air. There's a vibrancy to the taste, a subtle 'five spice powder' nuance, lemon curd and lanolin and the finish is dry and nutty - perhaps macadamia. I can't pick up the classic apricot that embellishes descriptions of youthful viognier – it is more dried mango and dried pineapple – and then the hay-like characters detected in the scent linger on the finish. It's winter here right now, but this is a memory of a lazy hot summer.

Is this what 10-year-old viognier is meant to taste like? Well, I have no benchmarks, so I guess it is. It's holding up well and is immensely enjoyable. It's a rich, textural wine that leaves behind a warm mouthfeel and a soft fuzzy buzz. 14% alcohol is stated on the bottle, which had a cork closure.

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

Vibes from the Eurovintage Roadshow

Eurovintage ( must be New Zealand's biggest wine distributor after Eurowine and Vintage Wines & Spirits merged last year. So this tasting was a biggie. I counted over 50 brands including an assortment on an 'international table'. I decided to concentrate on whites and with time a constraint I tasted one, or at the most two from selected producers. The reds were more or less missed despite the tempting plethora of top label Aussies and a myriad of Pinot Noirs - many top brands that justice can't be done in a forum like this. However, some luvly-duvly Spanish numbers were not to be missed. These are some of my vibes.

Babich Individual Vineyard Marlborough Gruner Veltliner 2011 – my first taste of finished 2011 wine, although not for release for a couple of months. Highly aromatic - tropical guava scents carry through to the medium-bodied palate to be joined with apricot and lime. The finish is sharp, grippy and tight and a fumé note lingers. Very fresh. Shows great potential. Bottled one week. Should settle by its August release date.
eurov-overvw.jpg (51065 bytes)Across the other side of the room was a couple more from Austria.
Salomon Hochterrassen Gruner Veltliner 2009 – fumé nose, struck match flavour. Green grapes. Rich finish.
Salomon Wieden & Berg Gruner Veltliner 2009 Kremstal DAC – a richer wine with more power to the mouthfeel, delicate musk, hints of lime and while relatively neutral, has a full-bodied lingering finish. (I may have the wrong vintage here.)

Babich Single Vineyard Hawke's Bay Viognier 2010 – from the Fernhill area, this is a rich fleshy style and quite spicy, on the edge of Gewurz on the respect. Musk, spice and apricot float on a dreamy texture with a touch of orange blossom on the finish. Good length. Nice.
CJ Pask Gimblett Road Viognier 2010 – quite restrained aromatics but lovely ripe, rounded and creamy textured with apricot, spice and a long bright finish.
Clayridge Marlborough Viognier 2008 - Planted in 2001, but this is the first crop. "Fickle in the climate," says winemaker Mike Just. A rich, fat, leesy style, some wild ferment notes come through, with grilled apricot and honey and a rounded mouthfilling finish. Thought provoking.
Man O War Valkyrie Viognier 2010 – smoky with exotic spices infusing into the lush stonefruit flavours with tropical fruit and lime pushing through. Thick textured – like nectar, with a ripe fruity finish. Intriguing.

Vavasour Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 – a terrific follow-on to the very successful 2009, it's fruit and bright yet a well-balanced savoury undertone and a touch of spice. 10% saw oak. Served chilled, it's absolutely mouthwatering.
Carrick Central Otago Pinot Gris 2010 – an oily textured wine with a powerful attack. Weighty and full with citrus and honey.
Maude Central Otago Pinot Gris 2010 - Quite a high-toned style, it's a little leesy and quite textural (barrel fermented although no oak taste) with a bright finish.
ChrisMan O War Exiled Pinot Gris 2010 – From Ponui Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, this totally seduces with its fruity aromas and juicy flavours. Quite spicy and zingy with tropical fruit tending towards passionfruit, a lovely slippery texture and a long finish. Moderately sweet, takes chilling well. The name comes from Napoleon being exiled to St Helena – this is made from the St Helena clone. Great story – great wine. White Wine of the Day. Did I say this was from Auckland! Oh, yes I did. Winemaker Chris posed for the picture.

Vavasour Claudia's Sauvignon Blanc 2007 – alternative style fermented and matured in French oak for 11 months. Smells like a 'fish smoker' in the distance (that's a nice smell, btw) and tastes savoury with an oily texture and grassy notes on the finish joining apricot and peach. A blockbuster wine. What food do you match these alternative sauvs with?

Maude Central Otago Chardonnay 2010 – the leesy, wild ferment scent does not prepare for the attack of acidity that races through the palate. "It's gone through malo," winemaker Dan Dineen said. Once my palate adjusted I found a big, bold wine with an oily texture and roasted nut characters.
Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2010 – on its debut today, it has youthful French oak and nut and citrus characters.
Ata Rangi Petrie Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 – (Martinborough) big leesy lemony style with lots of oak – or at least it seemed like it to me. Didn't taste the 'better known' Craighall.
Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2010 – (Hawkes Bay) one of the big guns and this vintage thoroughly deserves the label's hype. Rich, ripe, overflowing with flavour. Seamless already with integrated spicy French oak and grilled stonefruit. Polished in and out. Super wine.

Seresin Dry Marlborough Riesling 2006 – five years old and just released. Petrol on the nose, concentrated weighty palate. You can wrap your tongue around this Riesling. Nice development with the bottle age yet still plenty of freshness.
Pegasus Bay Gewurztraminer 2010. Different to the 2009 that I recently tasted (notes to be posted soon), this is more lemon honey and grapefruit peel. Turkish delight pushes through with ginger notes that leave a slightly spritzy finish. It's a little drier and doesn't quite have the concentration of the 2009, which was absolutely sensational.

And for something completely different, Nerola Xarel.lo Garnacha 2008 – DO Catalunya, Spain. Made by Torres. Shy on the nose, green grape flavours, a touch of spice. It seems like quite a dry, neutral wine but it has a pleasing lightly oily texture and fleshy yellow plum flavours emerge on the lingering aftertaste. It's evidently had some oak, but that was not apparent when I tasted it. I liked it. Has body and length. Different to what I normally drink.

Sangre de Toro 2008 - made from Garnacha and Carinena, this classic, with a miniature bull adorning the neck, is a light fresh red with a tarry nuance to the restrained aromas, raspberry fruit upfront then a backbone of richer cassis, and dry tannins throughout. The cheapest wine in the Torres range.
BrunoTorres Celeste Crianza Tempranillo 2007 – Love the modern take on tempranillo in this wine – creamy American oak scent and a lovely touch of peppery spice infusing the smooth, creamy flavours. Supple tannins, Juicy fruit. From the Ribero del Duero. Red Wine of the Day
Torres Salmos Syrah Carinena Garnacha 2008 – "Try this," said Bruno Butraguneo (pictured), the Torres man. But such an old-fashioned raisiny style, a short sip at a tasting table does not do it justice. It needs a big glass and musing time.
Torres Mas de Plana 2006 – well, this needs a big glass too, but seductive, regardless, at the tasting. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, it's a bold concentrated wine with dry tannins, the oak character comes through and the fruit supports it.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 8th 2011

Breidecker - something you don't see every day

At the Eurovintage Roadshow which motored through Auckland city yesterday, I was on the look out for something different and came across Breidecker on the Hunter's stand. Now this is a varietal you don't see every day.

breidecker.jpg (57589 bytes)Hunter's Marlborough Breidecker 2010 is a  light-bodied, fresh, grapey-flavoured, juicy, inoffensive quaffer. Chilling tones down the moderate sweetness that clocks in at 17.1g/l rs - in fact I didn't think it was as sweet as that. It has 11% alcohol and a screwcap closure.

If anyone is old enough to remember Muller Thurgau, it's along the lines of the better wines made from that grape, perhaps because it is a crossing of Muller Thurgau with Siebel. It was developed at the Geisenheim Research Station in Germany in 1962 and named after Heinrich Breidecker, a German-born pioneer winemaker in New Zealand, Breidecker arrived in New Plumouth in 1875 and with his son, tried to grow grapes at what is now Pukekara Park. In 1880 they relocated themselves and the vines to Kohukohu on the northern side of the Hokianga Harbour - better known today as the Hokianga north side ferry terminus. 

Hunter's believe they are the only producer in New Zealand of Breidecker. They have been growing it since the early 1980s. Peter McDonald (Mac), who I spoke to about the wine yesterday, said Almuth Lorenz (Hunter's winemaker at the time) ecouraged Ernie Hunter to plant it and some thirty years later they are still producing it. Mac says it has quite a following at the cellar door. I wonder if it is for its neutrality - it's the absolute polar opposite of Sauvignon Blanc in that respect - or possibly for its under $12 price.

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

Queen's Birthday Honours to viticulturists

Congrats to two Marlborough men honoured for their services to viticulture, both receiving the honour of becoming 'Members' of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).

Mr Allan Arrol Scott, of Blenheim. Allan Scott helped to plant Marlborough's first vineyard (for Montana Wines) in 1973. In 1980 he left Montana for Corbans and became their national vineyard manager. He bought his own block of land in Rapaura in 1985 and in 1990, having left Corbans, he established Allan Scott Family Winemakers.

Mr Ivan Carl Sutherland, of Blenheim. Ivan joined Cloudy Bay in 1986 as viticulturist and stayed there on the board even after setting up his own label, Dog Point, with former Cloudy Bay winemaker James Healy, in 2002. He originally established his vineyard in 1979, expanding it considerable over the next few years. Not surprisingly he ended up supplying grapes to Cloudy Bay. Ivan is also recognised for his contribution to rowing. He represented New Zealand in the bronze-medal winning rowing eight team at the 1976 Olympics, was a subsequent team manager, then selector, and is currently chairman of Rowing NZ.

There is one other wine association in the honours list.

Mr John Langley Hawkesby, of Auckland, for services to broadcasting and the community. John Hawkesby is most well known for his television roles as newsreader and compere, but has found wine reviewing to be a satisfying sideline in his post-television years.

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

Treasure from the cellar - St Jerome

Here's a wine from the cellar that Neil opened for dinner tonight. It's made from grapes grown in Auckland and, not surprisingly, I didn't get any of the wine options questions right, other than the broad age selection of 10 to 15 years old. But getting questions wrong didn't detract from the delicious vinous experience that this wine delivered.

St Jerome Matuka Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1996 is dark in colour but with some bricking apparent to the hue. It's a concentrated, intense red with lovely sweet vinosity, a cakey lusciousness, vanilla, spice, cassis, plum, tar, cedar, dusty tannins and liquorice. It seems like the fruit is immensely ripe and while some mellow notes are creeping in, it is sensuous and sumptuous with brightness to the finish and seems more youthful than the maths says it is. Made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, aged in new French oak for two years then bottled and aged a further five years before release, it has matured beautifully over the subsequent eight years to deliver very satisfying sipping right now. It has 13.5% alc by volume and is sealed with a cork, which did its job well.

Rating: Outstanding. It would be interesting to taste this alongside more favoured regions, eg Hawkes Bay and Waiheke as I think this wine, made from fruit grown in Henderson in West Auckland, would give any top wine of the same age a run for the money because this wine was impressive indeed. I would rate it amongst one of the best 15-year-old reds I have tasted.
Availability: In discerning wine drinkers' cellars. Cost $38 on release.
Food Match: A casserole of beef cooked slowly in tomatoes with onions, carrot, parsnips, sage and thyme. The secret to the meat is you cook it for a couple of hours the night before, let it cool, refrigerate it, then reheat slowly for another hour while preparing the accompaniments. Perfect!

According to the St Jerome website, the current vintage they are selling of Matuka is the 2000.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 4th 2011

A kiwi take on matching food with Gewurz

Enjoyed the remains of a bottle of Gewurztraminer with dinner the other night, and an unexpected but delicious wine and food moment occurred. The wine: Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2009. The food: roast kumara.  Now you can't get much more kiwi than kumara. It's fair dinkum kai.

When I tasted this Lawson's gewurz earlier in the year, it was far too cold and the wine suffered for it. It needed to lose its chilly edge to show his true varietal splendour. However the bottle we opened the other night, served at late autumn, back room, room temperature, seemed a little introverted. So into the fridge it went and funnily enough, this time it was so much better chilled. Well, you just can't win sometimes. So I'm putting it down to the time of year.

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 is light gold coloured with a floral bouquet and an oiliness to the texture with 'five spice' and pink smoker lolly (musk) flavours and a lusciousness that comes through. There's a small oak component that adds to the complexity of this full-flavoured wine and a pleasing twist of bitter orange on the finish.

There's something in the make up of kumara, even in the perfume, and if you let a kumara go a bit too ripe in your veggie bin it smells of musk and Turkish delight, so kumara with gewurz it's a complimentary rather than a contrasting match.

The mission to this wet start-of-winter weekend is to experiment with kumara. It's going to be fun because I bought three different types to play with. What will be on the menu? Let's see - kumara soup, kumara rosti, kumara mash with honey and roast garlic, kumara and pork casserole, kumara chips and the oh-so-easy whole baked kumara in tinfoil with peeling not necessary.

Actually kumara is a pretty good all round wine match. Checking past notes I find I enjoyed it before with chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, pinot noir, dolcetto and pinotage. Now it's a hero with gewurz as well.

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

Gossip Wire - Stonyridge, Mudbrick, Pay for reviews, etc

Martin Pickering, winemaker at Mudbrick Vineyard for the past seven years is leaving. First he's off on a trip to Europe and when he returns he takes up the reins as the new winemaker for Stonyridge, replacing Summer Belle for whom family now comes first. Replacing Martin at Mudbrick is Patrick Newton who comes from an assistant winemaker's role at Vidal  in Hawkes Bay. Incidentally, Pat's parents are the Newton half of the Newton-Forrest venture.

At the Waiheke Expo I bumped into Celia Hay from the New Zealand School of Food and Wine. She's not usually at Auckland events but that's all changed now as she has relocated the school after the building she was operating out of in Christchurch remains out of bounds. Her NZQA cooking and wine courses now take place in Chancery Chambers in Chancery Street in Auckland's CBD.

Bob Campbell MW has pulled his Priority Plus review scheme. Yesterday he sent an email to wineries saying that because of mounting criticism against reviewers who provide tasting notes for a fee, he can no longer provide his fast response service. He originally introduced Priority Plus after pressure from a few wine producers who urgently needed a review for websites, brochures, export markets etc. Bob, who has a tasting schedule, which can be viewed on his website, explains: "The time involved in tracking Priority Plus wines, tasting them out of the normal order and generating a fast response is significant and comes at a cost. I viewed Priority Plus as a fair charge for the extra administration involved. However others see it as tasting note for cash with the potential for me to be unduly influenced. Nothing could be further from the truth. I resent having to pull the plug on Priority Plus but it is simpler than trying to explain how the payment of a small fee in this case has no influence on my judgement. "

Hawkes Bay Winemakers are heading out on their annual road show. This year whites, as well as reds, will be on the table for tasting at Hot Red Hawkes Bay. Events take place in Hawkes Bay on June 3rd, in Christchurch on 21 June, in Wellington on 22 June and Auckland on 23 June. Check out for all the details.

And for other events, both in New Zealand and promotions of New Zealand wine overseas, check out the event calendar at

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

Waiheke Winegrowers come to town: 2011

Yesterday was the day when the Waiheke winemakers came to the city so we on the mainland didn't have to go to the island. This was my first good look at Waiheke wines since their expo two years ago. Last year I had a date clash, so my opportunity to taste Waiheke vanished.
I couldn't make the exposition this year until quite late because of a date clash again, mainly a Friends of the Library book promotion at Takapuna for Beyond the Persimmon Tree, which I co-edited.
The room was buzzing with chatter when I finally arrived at 2 pm and after sussing out the 12 producers, making it full circle back to the beginning, I decided to taste the Destiny Bay Bordeaux-inspired reds before checking out all the Syrahs.

Destiny Bay set the bar high with the Destinae ($75) and Mystae ($115) blends. (The 'ae' rhymes with bay).

2007 Destinae had a cedar nose and a creamy palate. Lovely integration. Nice.
2007 Mystae had a deeper, brooding aroma of cedary French oak and a   smooth texture with plum, cassis, fine tannins and liquorice. Lovely wine and a contender for 'top wine of the tasting'.
2008 Destinae was obviously more youthful, a little disintegrated, in comparison to the 07s, with underlying acidity more apparent.
Mystae 2008, in contrast, is a bold, rich plummy wine with spice and juicy red and black fruit, velvety tannins and lovely oak in the background. Bigger and more spicy than the 2007. Promising.

On to the Syrahs. I tasted Cable Bay Syrah 2009 ($50) first, to set a benchmark. This was reviewed as a Wine of the Week in April. It seemed really smoky and earthy today with leather, red fruit, mocha and pepper.

Hay Paddock Syrah 2007 ($72) is Hay Paddock's current release. It had the earthy character that I found I in the Cable bay.
Hay Paddock Syrah 2008, not released, smells sweeter and tastes ripe and juicer, but still that tight, savoury, leathery backbone and very dry tannins. A muscular, brawny Syrah, traits that would be apparent in most of the 2008s.

Man O War Dreadnought Syrah 2009 ($50) continues the general theme of the previous two producer's wines. Earthy, savoury and pepper. Ah, is this regionality coming through!

Miro Vineyard Syrah 2008 ($45) is their first ever. It impressed with its succulent chocolatey nose and spicy flavours and in the background pepper, leather and dry tannins. 3% Viognier in the blend and seemingly sweeter than the Hay Paddocks.
Miro Syrah Viognier 2009 ($45) is aromatic and spicy, but did I smell a little VA? "You have to have a really sensitive nose if you pick that up," said winemaker Barnett Bond. Maybe I have, or maybe it was something else entirely! Full of mocha, chocolate, leather and pepper, becoming very creamy and juicy, more luscious and approachable. Some marmite / earthy characters and chunky impressions come through. Lovely flavour as it lingers. 5% Viognier. I really, really liked this.

Mudbrick Shepherds Point Syrah 2010 ($42) is inky in colour and aromatic – the perfume emits balanced French oak, black fruits and cedar. Dark and savoury in the palate with a beefy finish and big, big, big. No wonder - it has an unbelievable 15.9% alcohol. " We just let the fruit do what it wants to each season," says Mudbrick's Nick Jones.
Mudbrick Reserve Syrah 2010 ($52) is again inky, big and beefy with mocha, spice and vanillin oak. So succulent and enveloping, an OMG wine, and with 15.6% alcohol you have to be careful who you drink this with, preferably someone you know very well – get the drift!!! Dangerous and very drinkable already.

Weeping Sands Syrah 2009 ($31.50) has a savoury aroma and is quite earthy, tight and leathery with lots of pepper. Opens up nicely and leaves behind a chicory, savoury tone.
Obsidian Syrah 2008 ($53.70) is well structured and Rhonish with redcurrant, pepper, allspice and some lovely vinous sweetness coming through. Tight now, but not as tight as other 08s.

Stonyridge Pilgrim 2009 ($80) is made from Syrah (81%), Mourvedre (15%) and Grenache (4%). Lifted, floral, fine tannins, chocolate and struck match, expansive palate building to a ripe creamy finish and just a teensy, weeny bit of underlying Brett.

David Evans Passage RockPassage Rock Syrah 2009 ($30) is juicy yet with the savouriness inherent to the best wines. Fine tannins, good fruit weight, well-balanced all round.
Passage Rock Syrah 2010 ($35) has lots of oak character. A big, fruity wine with mocha, spice, leather, a touch of earth and a dry tannin finish. Builds nicely in the palate as the flavours linger.
Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2008 ($50) is tight and muscular with leather and chicory. Like the other 2008s. What is it? For some reason I wrote 'clay'.
Passage Rock Reserve 2010, not released, is more like it – succulent, creamy, velvety, lots of chocolate, very generous.

I remember tasting the 2008 Syrahs two years ago and they showed so much promise. But with so many tight muscular wines, it has to be a reflection of the vintage and I have to question whether they are gong through a closed phase right now.

Just a few other wines to mention:

Peacock Sky Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($34) has a lovely fine, silky tannin structure, the fruit is concentrated and there's a lovely flow through the palate. A little dry on the finish but I think it will develop nicely.
Weeping Sands Montepulciano 2009 ($32.50) is the fourth from this producer. With smoke, cigar box, sweet cherry fruit and fine tannins, it's juicy and succulent and flows through nicely. But another big alcohol wine at 15%.
Stonyridge Larose 2009 ($220) has smoky savoury aromas and silky tannins. But it's quite brooding, cedary and sappy with plenty of cigar box characters at this stage of its life.

Antonio CrisciThe winery that surprised me the most was Poderi Crisci. Two years ago the wines disappointed and despite the charisma and charm of Antonio Crisci, I just wanted more in the wines. This year, what a difference! Now I want to go to the winery restaurant and taste the wines and the food these wines are made to go with.

Poderi Crisci Pinot Grigio 2010 ($31.50) was one of the few whites tasted today. Labelled Grigio but not what I expected because it was so juicy and thirst quenching.
Poderi Crisci Merlot 2007 ($32) seemed at first an old-fashioned style with that 1980s 'NZ pong', but fruity and approachable with integrated oak, and gentle tannins. It grew on me and I could imagine sipping this on Waiheke Island on one of their sun-fuelled afternoons.
Poderi Crisci Viburno 2008 ($39) is a blend of Merlot (70%) and Cabernet Franc. Richer, more intense aroma, quite broad fruit, bigger tannins, a little spice and French oak more obvious. Named after a plant that grows in Tuscany, it's a salami-accompanying wine.
And finally Poderi Crisci Merlot Riserva 2009 ($45). A rich, succulent wine and very modern as befits the profile of top Waiheke reds. Smooth, creamy and while the tannins are big, they are integrated and velvety with savoury smoky tones on the long lasting finish. One of my favourite wines of the day.

So there are no scores for any of these wines and I don't know how some of my fellow wine writers can taste wines in an open situation like this and score them. But I know the wines I'd like to revisit and if you've read this far, you can probably work that out too. What this means is I'll probably have to do a road trip to Waiheke again sometime. The yellow car would love to go back there.

To check out my last road trip to Waiheke, click here.
To check out my reviews from two years ago, click here
To find our more about Waiheke Winegrowers, click here.

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