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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: July 2011
Jul 29th: Outstanding Cabernet Shiraz blends from Yalumba
Jul 27th: 100 Must-Try New Zealand Wines
Jul 27th: Getting lost on a regional tour of Chardonnay
Jul 27th: Weekend Wines: Rock Ferry, Seresin, Palliser and Coopers Creek
Jul 23rd: Dry River - the Audrey Hepburn of Pinot Gris
Jul 22nd: National Poetry Day - Vineyard Poem
Jul 21st: Talking about the price of wine and Shingle Peak on the radio
Jul 20th: Auburn Rieslings - versatile and food friendly
Jul 18th: Winemaker visits and Wine of the Week
Jul 17th: Rant: One reason why I don't usually score wines
Jul 15th: A twittering winescribe
Jul 14th: French Onion Soup and Alsace Pinot Gris
Jul 13th: You can't do facial expressions on radio
Jul 11th: Wine of the Week, Wednesday Roundup and Yoga
Jul 10th: Lunch with the Churtons
Jul 10th: Trivia - Top wines at Webb's auctions in the 2010/2011 year
Jul 10th: Auckland on top in the Spiegelau International Wine Competition
Jul 7th: Warm, cosy, cuddly Merlot
Jul 6th: Becoming redundant as consumers take over
Jul 4th: Finding a wine to toast American Independence Day
Jul 3rd: Taylors from the Clare Valley with Helen McCarthy
Older Entries

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

Outstanding Cabernet Shiraz blends from Yalumba

If the biggest disappointment of the week was the absence of Jane Ferrari from the annual Yalumba tasting at First Glass Wines and Spirits, and elsewhere around the country, the quality of the wines certainly made up for it. And her short notice replacement, Andy La Nauze (telephoned last Friday morning and asked if he could spend a week in New Zealand starting Sunday), did quite a good job given the expectations of all the Jane Ferrari fans. After all a night with Jane is not just a night of Yalumba Wines, it's a night of entertainment stand-up comedian style. At least Jane sent her apologies, both by email and on her blog. And Andy, you good-looking bloke, we love you too. 

This year I was most impressed with the Cabernet Shiraz blends. A distinctly Australian innovation, as the Yalumba website says, "Some of Australia's most legendary wines have been made in this style ...", and Yalumba have been making these blends since 1962. More words from the website: "The Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend is taken so seriously by Yalumba, that Brian Walsh, Yalumba's Director of Winemaking persuaded the committee of the Adelaide Wine Show to introduce a separate judging class for the style. "It's a wine style that is unique to Australia," he says, "and plays such an important part in Australia's winemaking history."

They really are unique in the world of fine wine - the depth and structure of Cabernet and the suppleness and spiciness of the Shiraz seem like they are made to go together.

So the stars of the night were:

Yalumba The Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz 2008 - at $18.99 on special now (although cheaper on the night) the 'Best Buy' by far in the context of the tasting.

Yalumba FDR1a Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2008 - FDR stands for Fine Dry Red and was first made in 1974. A legend of its time, it's now being made again. The 2008 was a star on the night, perhaps becuase it is drinking so beautifully now.

Yalumba 'The Signature' Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006 - a seriously fantastic wine and will be most long-lived of the three.

To check out all my notes from this tasting, including two vintages of 'The Menzies' and the icon 'Octavius', then just click here.

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

100 Must-Try New Zealand Wines

If you were to make a list of the 100 must-try New Zealand wines, and I were also to make a list, they would be different. And if you were to compare your list to Michael Cooper's in his brand new book 100 Must-Try New Zealand Wines, you may be surprised at some of the inclusions, and also some of the omissions. But that's the fun of wine, isn't it? It's a subjective topic and it's unlikely anyone's list of 100 would be the same.

I went to the book launch last night, a magnificent occasion for a wine lover to attend. Held at Wine Chambers in Auckland, all 100 wines were open for tasting, on 10 tables, each with 10 wines, around the room. Of course no one would be expected to try all 100 wines and I didn't see anyone trying to. Most people were like me, choosing wine to taste because they are classics, or, in my case, labels not seen or tasted before.

And that's the beauty of this book. There are the anticipated classics, but other wines are included because they are startling value for money, or because they are varieties that are new and unusual. Thus, in the latter category, we find examples of Arneis, Gruner Veltliner and Verdelho.

The only issue I had with the launch, was the lighting. The room was dimply lit and the one candle on each table didn't assist me much in reading the label. I could have put my glasses on of course. But this was a tasting rather than a note taking exercise. So the brand name stood out in many cases, but not the variety or the vintage. Of course with wines like Stonyridge Larose and Tom, who cares.

"What impresses you so far," asked Michael as I hovered around a table of reds.
"Well actually I like this," I said pointing to Alluviale.
He opened his book on the Alluviale page. "It's a terrific wine and it's only $30. That is why it is one of my Best Buys."
I raised my eyebrows. "Only $30,that's fantastic," I exclaimed.

A blend of Merlot and Cabernet from the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawkes Bay, I liked the fine silky tannins, lovely concentration of fruit and the hint of chocolate. I think I tasted the 2009.

Tasting in the dim light ended up being a good thing for me at a table of whites. I saw a bottle labelled Tupari, a brand I'm not familiar with, so poured some into my glass. Oh my gosh, the burst of tropical fruit, the bright zest and zing, the mouthfilling deliciousness. Like nothing I had tasted so far. What on earth could it be? Picking up the bottle and putting it beside the candle for a closer look, I realised it was Sauvignon Blanc. Of course it was Sauvignon Blanc!!! And tasting this wine reminded me why I fell in love with wine when I tasted my first Sauvignon Blanc in 1988. It was an explosion of delicious, just like this. I chastised myself thinking that if the room had been well lit, and I had seen Sauvignon Blanc, I probably would have reached for something else.

Sometimes we just need reminding that there are some great things in life. And world class New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc like Tupari Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is one of them. This is a must-try wine.

Michael Cooper's 100 Must-Try New Zealand Wines is now available in all good book stores. The RRP is $34.99.

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

Getting lost on a regional tour of Chardonnay

Six Chardonnays were opened – one each from Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson and Waipara. A regional tour of Chardonnay with three from the North Island and three from the South Island. Would we be able to tell from the wine in the glass which part of the country we were in? Or would we get lost on the journey?

Going back to basics, what makes a Chardonnay regionally distinctive? Years ago, when I taught wine appreciation classes, I would say it was the fruit profile. Warmer sites tend to give up tropical fruit flavours, heading to melon, to stonefruit and to citrus the further south one went. But it's not only the vineyard location, but also the clones; eg Mendoza can sometimes be distinctively pineappley, while other clones are more savoury.

But now the winemakers throw all the basic concepts into disarray. It's because most winemakers I know love making chardonnay. They can play with the oak regime, the yeast regime, the time on yeast lees, secondary fermentations, etc, etc.

So needless to say I got lost on the journey. The Auckland wine was layered with citrus while juicy tropical fruit was a signature of the Waipara and Marlborough wines.

We enjoyed most of the wines and Neil, who poured the wines, agreed with me that these were the top two by a golden mile.

Te Mania Reserve Nelson Chardonnay 2009, $28, was my favourite. Full-bodied with quite powerful nutty, mealy, savoury characters to the fore, fruit (a hint of apple, a touch of lime) plays a minor role. A little different in style to the others, with mealy savoury aromas that are a little subdued; it's dry, it's sophisticated with a really long finish – and to me this is what sets it apart. 14% alc.

Black Estate Waipara Chardonnay 2010, $33, has a gorgeous aroma of stonefruit and melon with a nutty infusion to the scent. In the mouth it's rounded and creamy with well-balanced spicy French oak and a pleasing butterscotch layer that adds a nice theme. Juicy tropical fruit impresses and all in all it's balanced and clean. I wondered if this could be Mendoza clone as there's a pineapple nuance coming through. Neil voted this as his wine of the night. 14.2% alc.

Tasting the residues of the Rock Ferry Marlborough Chardonnay 2008, $35, opened a couple of days previously, this wine stood its ground with this top-rated pair.

These two were quite distinctly on the silvery tier.

Man o War Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010, $28, has a peachy aroma with a mealy overlay. Spicy and savoury to the taste - quite dry, yet tingly. Layered with citrus and oatmeal and a classy backbone of oak, it seems a focussed, sophisticated elegant style. 14.5% alc.

Nautilus Marlborough Chardonnay 2010, $35, has a bright, mealy aroma with a stonefruit richness. The most boisterous of the six in the aroma department and that follows though to the palate. The juicy fruit flavours are definitely tropical in character and the well-integrated oak seems to be a minor player. 14% alc.
Revisiting this wine the following night, the class and potential was definitely there. Some interesting wild yeast nuances too. A wine that could develop nicely with time in the cellar.

These two were on the bottom rung.

Cooper Creek SV Chardonnay 2010 'The Limeworks' $20, comes from Hawkes Bay. The most golden coloured in the lineup, the aromas are of tropical fruit and butter and the flavours are buttered popcorn and nuts with tropical fruit bringing the mealy savouriness into balance and a nice squeeze of sweet citrus on the finish. 13.5% alc.
Although not top in the tasting, it was one of the two best matches to the food.

Julicher Martinborough Chardonnay 2009, $19, smells concentrated, rich, mealy and nutty but it tastes surprisingly sweet! A toasty chardonnay with a biscuity richness, peaches, cream and a buttery coating to the finish. 14.5% alc.

We matched the wines to slow braised pork hocks. My favourite matches were Te Mania and Coopers Creek.  

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

Weekend Wines: Rock Ferry, Seresin, Palliser and Coopers Creek

On Saturday night the question was, "What shall we open to match the chilli-spiced roast chicken?" I wanted to taste the new Coopers Creek Albarino so that was one of the mix. Then perhaps a Gewurztraminer - could be good with the spice, a Chardonnay because Chardonnay usually goes well with chicken, and lastly a Pinot Gris. These wines were also selected also to see just how varietal and distinct the Albarino might be.

Turned out that anyone of these wines was a worthy match to chilli-spiced chicken, but the surprise wine of the tasting, was not the Albarino, nor the Gewurz, nor the Pinot Gris. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous Chardonnay, the style I like to drink.

rockferry.jpg (12006 bytes)Rock Ferry Marlborough Chardonnay 2008 is a bright-hued light gold with deeper golden glints. It looks appealing in the glass and the aroma of smoky oak and mealy characters prepare for the full-bodied, fleshy palate that's full of toasty oak and grilled peach with a buttery creamy richness and oak spice. A rounded, mouthfilling, powerful chardonnay influenced by wild yeast. It wooed me. A $35 price tag demands a wine of quality and this one definitely is.

Seresin Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008 is light lemon gold coloured and the aromas emanate smoker lollies and a Middle East spicy sweetness. A pretty wine, a floral wine, medium-bodied in style, it seems quite delicate at first but builds in power. A little spritzy on entry to the palate but that fizzes out and the texture is warm and rounded with lingering flavours of rose water, orange zest and white pepper. $29.50.

Palliser Martinborough Pinot Gris 2009 is a little neutral on the nose compared to the other three wines - pears, vanilla biscuits maybe. But it tastes concentrated and intense with a rounded mouthfeel and textural warmth. Flavours of strudel spices come through while orchard fruit sits neatly in the background. There are some phenolics inherent to dry Pinot Gris and the finish is persistent. $27.30.

Coopers Creek SV Gisborne Albarino 2011 'Bell-Ringer' smells aromatic and nutty. There's a richness to the scent and that richness follows through to the palate. It's the last wine listed here but was the first wine tasted and I'm excited when I taste it because I know it has to be the Albarino. It's got the Pinot Gris / Viognier / Riesling thing going on. It's in the varietal zone, so to speak. And because it's such a special wine, it's been further reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week.

The thing that happens, sometimes, when dinner is almost ready, but you keep it warm in the oven so the wine tasting can take place, is that sometimes the food gets burnt. Not the chicken in this case, but the pumpkin. Now I never would have thought that burnt pumpkin would turn out to be a wine match success – but it was!!! With the dry wines - the Albarino, the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay - the not so much burnt but caramelised pumpkin turned out to be sensationally complimentary.

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

Dry River - the Audrey Hepburn of Pinot Gris

The late Audrey Hepburn lives on as an icon of style, charm, elegance and grace. She redefined glamour and her images reflect her timeless beauty. It's rare for me to find an aura of style, charm, elegance and grace in a wine to make me want to use a style icon like Audrey Hepburn as a metaphor. But after tasting the Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2010, finding harmony all the way through and an aura of the utmost elegance – I had found the Audrey Hepburn of wine.

Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2010 is light golden coloured with scents of spiced apple, vanilla biscuits and a delicate hint of tangelo. A dryish wine, quite creamy, with a delicate spicy character - a compote of pear with five spice and orange zest. A rich, textural wine yet it has a light step. It has a refinement and quality about it and the finish – it' so looong. The dryness, the hint of sweetness, the spicy twist and the bittersweet citrus makes it salivating and moreish. A true style icon. Try it with lightly spiced foods, or roast pork and apple sauce, or perhaps foie gras, then settle down on the couch to savour this wine while watching the timeless beauty of Audrey Hepburn in one of her movies. 13.5% alc. Cork Closure. About $55.

Also recently tasted: Dry River Amaranth Late Harvest Martinborough Riesling 2010. This is light gold in colour with a showy bouquet of lime blossom and honeysuckle with a suggestion of nectar. A concentrated, sweet, honeyed riesling with blossoms, honeysuckle, apples and lime combining in harmony with the breathtaking apple and lemon acidity so fresh and arousing. Concentrated and powerful – full-bodied for Riesling – and the finish is long with a brulee sugar sweetness. Does this and the golden colour indicate a touch of botrytis? A wine with a long life ahead of it, it becomes more and more intense with time in the bottle after opening, as evidenced by my tasting of leftovers. A wine that needs a more edgy icon as a metaphor, this was tasted amongst a sextet of sweeter Rieslings and successfully matched to roast pork and crackling. 9.5% alc. 60 g/l residual sugar. Cork closure. About $60.

Style icons, hard to find. Some bottles do make it to retail, but mail order is more reliable. Check out for more.

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

National Poetry Day - Vineyard Poem

by Sue Courtney

Winter in the vineyard
early in the morning
naked vines
stand in rows
like soldiers at attention
at a dawn parade.

Fallen leaves
dried and brittle
pile up in a corner
carried there before
by the wind.

Frost touches the leaves
crystals form
on imperfections
tatting an exquisite lacy pattern
along the edges
and down the veins.

One way
to preserve the beauty
before the thaw
before the leaves become
a wet soggy heap of humus
is in a photograph.

Another way
is in this poem.

Original poem by Sue Courtney © - posted to my blog for National Poetry Day

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

Talking about the price of wine and Shingle Peak on the radio

Now this is an interesting subject. Just how much should you pay for a bottle of current release wine?

Take Matua Valley Shingle Peak Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011, for example. This brand new release has an attractive floral and orchard fruit aroma and a warm, textural mouthfeel with spiced apple and pear flavours, like apple strudel with vanilla icing, and just a hint of tart citrus to balance the sweetness on the finish. It has 13% alcohol and a screwcap closure.

I like it and think it will be a popular choice with punters if they buy it at the right price. But just what is the right price?

Matua Valley advertises this wine on their website,, with an RRP of $17.95 a bottle, but if you make a visit to their cellar door you can buy it for $15.90 a bottle. By the way it's always a lovely drive to Matua Valley in Waikoukou Road, Waimauku, and if you are travelling from Auckland the journey will be even quicker when the northwestern motorway extension opens on August 7th.

But if you are going to buy at the supermarket, as I did from New World in Albany, you could find it on the shelf for $20.99, $3 more than Matua's RRP. And if I had bought a bottle last week that is how much I would have had to pay. But yesterday I popped into the store to pick up a bottle on the way to my radio spot and was delighted to find it was a 'super deal'. The special price of $12.99 a bottle was an $8 savings on the full supermarket price. Whooppee!

As I was driving into the city I pondered, why is the supermarket charging $3 more a bottle than the recommended retail price when the wine is not being specialled? And if you know the pricing structures, wouldn't you be mad to pay full price?

The bottom line is I like it and I recommend it - but don't pay $21 - that's too expensive. Matua say the RRP is $17.95 but shop around to see if you can buy it at $13 or less.

So why did I choose this wine anyway? Especially when I'm not on the winery's wine writers' samples list?

Well, I loved the 2010 vintage after tasting it at a First Glass Wednesday tasting, and with their price of $11.99 a bottle I chose the wine for a writers' group book launch function. And I wrote it up as a Wine of the Week back then - check out the review here.

Then with Paul Henry admitting he liked Pinot Gris at lunchtime, I was fascinated to see the 2011 vintage on the shelf when I did a supermarket wine department reccy last week. My radio spot yesterday seemed an ideal time to taste my first 2011 vintage Pinot Gris, as well as give Paul a taste of the wine along with this week's Wine of the Week Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009.

Click here for yesterday's Podcast

I won't be on the radio next week, however, as Michael Cooper will be back in the Wine Me Up Wednesday seat to talk about his new book, 100 Must Try Wines. If you listen at 3.40pm on Wednesday the 27th, Paul and Michael will be giving away copies and you could have a chance to win. Check out the frequencies on or listen online.

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

Auburn Rieslings - versatile and food friendly

Last year I reviewed Auburn Twilight Riesling 2009 – a Wine of the Week, in fact. Matched to crayfish on the Kaikoura coast, it was divine. Putting my money where my mouth was, I bought three bottles and one of those was opened at our favourite BYO – Long Bay Restaurant at the beach on Monday night.

Lon Bay Moon 18 Jul 11At around 9pm, to add enchantment to the evening, a lop-sided moon rose over the water, shimmering ripples in the shaft of light.

"It's sweet", said the older of my two younger sisters when she tasted the Twilight, then she added, "but it's delicious". And it is delicious because the acidity is fresh and tempers the sweetness, the lime and tropical fruit flavours are juicy and the finish cuts through the palate like a knife – especially when tasted with food. The various food on the table worked beautifully too. I had a manuka-smoked tuna with a Kaffir lime couscous, marinated fennel and radish and wasabi mayo, as did one of my sisters. Neil had seafood chowder and the others had Southern Fried Squid with red curry soba noodle salad, cashews, bok choi, sesame and ginger. All of these dishes were an exciting match with the Riesling. It seems to me the sweeter, high acid Rieslings are more versatile when it comes to food.

It was interesting to try the Twilight 2009 again as last week I tasted the new vintage 2010 Auburn Rieslings, sample bottles that Max Marriott of Auburn Wines had sent me. I asked him for a food matching suggestion and he suggested pork. Well, pork it was, from the Mad Butcher in Albany, who seems to be the best pork purveyor around here. I was excited to see amongst all the cuts, a four-cutlet pork rib roast – ideal for two. Well, the pork was divine with the wines, but the salty pork crackling was really the big winner - the Rieslings cut through the fat, complemented the saltiness and left the palate clean.

There are three Rieslings in the 2010 release from Auburn. All are considered 'sweet' on the Riesling taste Profile scale and I tasted them at cold winter room temperature. All cost $28 (plus freight) from

Auburn Alexandra Riesling 2010 is a delicate wine, pale in colour, hauntingly floral with lifted flavours of apple and tarragon – and when that anise comes through, I'm in love. There's impeccable balance between the acidity and honeydew sweetness – it's a wine of harmony – a beautiful expression of delicacy and finesse. 10.5% alc. 45 g/l residual sugar. 7.5 g/l TA.

Auburn Lowburn Riesling 2010 is lemon gold in colour with a scent of apple skin. In the mouth distinctive grapefruit nuances give this wine focus and a clear path to follow. A savoury Riesling, perhaps because of the winemaking, yet fresh and juicy, with orange and five spice coming through – oh, and some delicate tarragon nuances too. The finish is concentrated and persists in a graceful way. 10.5% alc. 64 g/l residual sugar. 7.2 g/l TA.

Auburn Aura Riesling 2010 is again lemon gold in colour. The bouquet is a clean pure expression of Riesling with lemony citrus and candied pineapple carrying the acidity perfectly. Pineapple is the governing taste profile here with candied mango coming through – the tropical fruit is delicious, delectable – and there's a pleasing touch of mandarin and honeysuckle on the finish. The mouth feel is like light nectar and finish is long. This was my favourite. 8.5% alc. 104 g/l residual sugar. 6.7 g/l TA.

Auburn Wines are the only vineyard in New Zealand dedicated to Riesling.The Germanic influence is definitely there. These wines are highly recommended.

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

Winemaker visits and Wine of the Week

When Rockburn winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis asked if he could call in for a visit while he was in Auckland, I was surprised and flattered. I'm not usually on a winemaker's calling card, you see. But I do like the Rockburn wines, so I said yes. Besides it's always nice to have a casual chat. I could perhaps find out why he became a winemaker and what was so special about living in Cromwell. For example, was he attracted there because winter sports are his passion? 

Malcolm, a microbiology graduate, is, like others before him, a microbiologist / winemaker convert. During his first vintage in Marlborough, at Vavasour in 2000, he discovered that Pinot Noir was exciting and because everyone was talking about Central Otago, that's where he headed. He worked in Felton Road's vineyards from late 2000 through 2001, at the same time studying at Lincoln for a Post Grad degree. He was promoted to assistant winemaker in 2002 a position he held until leaving there after vintage 2005. During this time he did three vintages in Oregon - hey, that's during the ski season in Otago so it definitely wasn't winter sports that attracted him there. Turns out, being raised in Waimate, he's used to living in the sticks - although today Cromwell is hardly the sticks, it's the thriving hub of the Central Otago wine scene.

When Rockburn advertised for a winemaker, Malcolm applied. From assistant winemaker at Felton Road, to Chief Winemaker at Rockburn, his first vintage there, in the brand new winery he helped to design, was in 2006. The awards for his Pinot Noir have been gilded ever since.

We tasted some wines, many I had tasted before and already reviewed on, but there were also new wines - sneak previews - wines not yet released. There wasn't much to write about really.

Them when it was time to leave, Malcolm asked if I would like to revisit any of the wines later.
"Yes please, the Pinot Noirs, I'd really like to taste with food."

So with food it was - duck with morello cherry sauce, herb crusted lamb backstrap and slow cooked mushrooms - extravagant but worth it because with these delicious food-friendly wines, the wine and food matches were a treat. And for this reason I've chosen Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 as this week's Wine of the Week.  Click here to read my review.

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

Rant: One reason why I don't usually score wines

Cooking my French Onion soup for Bastille Day (see the July 14th entry), and finding the recipe needed a cup of white wine, I picked up a bottle of Riesling left over from a tasting, poured some into a glass and had a quick swirl, sniff and sip. It was Astrolabe Astrolabe Farm Marlborough Riesling 2009 (9% alcohol) from Astrolabe's Experience range and it tasted so much better than it had three days before. Not that it was bad three days before, but it was quite tight and the acidity seemed a little malic and cheesy and four of the five wines alongside it performed better, the fifth performed equally. The time in the bottle with that six inches of air (it's a tall bottle) had transformed the Astrolabe into a harmonious taste experience and the bronze equivalent score I had given it was turning gold.

"Yum," I uttered, and handed my glass to Neil. He agreed. There was no tightness, no malic, no cheesy – just concentrated lime (heading towards kero), a touch of honey and 'sweet-fruited acidity', if that makes sense. Very defined, with richness and weight, verging on the style of spatlese. So the Astrolabe, served at winter room temperature, became the cook's drinking wine and we found another leftover for the pot.

This outlines one of my dilemmas with scoring wines. When is the right time to record a score? And from what part of the bottle? If it is always going to be the top inch, that will make it consistent. But can you do that if you are scoring wines tasted at trade shows, at cellar doors (when you don't know how long the wine has been opened) and, if you are a writer, at home with winemakers who come to visit you with bottles opened the day before?

And when wines like this Astrolabe Astrolabe Farm Marlborough Riesling 2009 become just so gosh darn gorgeous with that bit of air, is that fair?

And seeing that Riesling spurred this blog post I'll say that furthermore, Riesling is one of the most temperamental wines when it comes to temperature. Sweet Rieslings served too warm become flabby while dry Rieslings served too cold can be tooth enamel-etching. Should a Riesling score be combined with the temperature it was tasted at?

Scores from a sample taste may not reflect the consumer's drinking experience, but more importantly the score I give a wine (tasted blind, swirled, sniffed, sipped, spit out) may not reflect my own drinking experience.

So that's a reason I don't like to score wines and I'll wager it is a reason some wineries don't enter wine shows.

But when I do find a wine that stands out from the top to the bottom of the bottle, over a range of temperatures if necessary, and with food, then I won't hesitate to say, "This is a top-notch wine worthy of gold medal status". More on the Rieslings in the next couple of days.

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

A twittering winescribe

So this morning I decided to fledge the safety of my nest and join the Twitterverse. It could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing, it all depends on how strict I am with my time management.

The first thing to do when joining Twitter is to give yourself a user name, but because I've been such a Twitter laggard all of the names I wanted, like SueCourtney or Vinous or WOTW, had been taken. After about half an hour of punching letters into the user name box - a name without hyphens or underscores because they are confusing, and something that wasn't too cryptic, something easy to remember - I had six possibilities. I chose winescribe because that seemed to reflect what I do. So when you see @winescribe on Twitter, that's me.

Twitter is a public discussion forum and even though users follow other users, anyone - with or without a Twitter account - can see tweets unless they are protected. So I've been following a favourite set of tweeters, just to see what's happening, for a number of years. It was the subtle encouragement of John Bartlett from NZ Wine Directory ( and his tweeting of my blog entries and messages for me to join (did he know I could see them?) that finally made me take flight. John's been around on the Internet for a number of years and his NZ Wine Links website was the precursor to the NZ Wine Directory, which was launched in early 2010. Then more recently Heather Battersby from Wine Jobs Online ( who assured me it wasn't hard to do. 

If you haven't got a Twitter account, click on!/winescribe to see what I've been tweeting. You can see who I follow and who follows me and what they've been tweeting simply by clicking on their user name. 

If you have got a Twitter account, then you might like to follow me. Just click on the icon below.

I think much of this weekend will be spent on Twitter searching for vino friends from the past and present to follow.

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

French Onion Soup and Alsace Pinot Gris

So it is Bastille Day – 14th July – and I have to decide whether I will do French today. Well, because it's mid winter, and it's pretty darn cold as I sit here at my computer writing these thoughts, and even colder outside, I decide I will. On the menu will be French Onion Soup. The trick to delicious French Onion Soup is the slow cooking and caramelising of the onions, a tasty stock, firm baguette and a reasonably piquant cheese. I like to add cumin seeds to the onions as they are caramelising. This adds a spiciness that is just so delicious with an Alsace gewurztraminer or pinot gris. And quite honestly, these French whites offer the best value for money.

Okay, so the soup is cooked and ready to serve and we are tasting the wine: Willy Gisselbrecht Tradition Pinot Gris 2008. It was a wine I had won at a First Glass Wednesday tasting for getting all the trivia questions correct (a one-off win so far, btw) and the bottle had been sitting on the bench waiting for a opportunity just like this. An interesting Pinot Gris, golden in colour and the smell of the beach - like after yesterday's storm - not an overpowering scent but the subtle nuances are there. A moderately rich wine, textural and reasonably full, but there's a flabbiness that gives me the impression it could have been better last year. Flavours quite neutral, baked apple perhaps, but some tasty orange zest pushing its way through and a nuance of five spice too. 

However, when the wine is matched to the food - and my gosh this onion soup is sweet - well, the wine is in its element and all in all it is a harmonious match. 

The recipe I used comes from my Food File pages (click for the recipe), however I cooked the onions down for about 50 minutes, I added half the amount of stock, I forgot to add the nutmeg and the wine used was a fruity Marlborough Riesling. The photo shows the bread on the side, but it tastes even better when the bread with cheese topping is submerged in the soup.

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

You can't do facial expressions on radio

Had my first radio spot today on Wine Me Up Wednesday with Paul Henry on Radio Live. Many thanks to Michael Cooper for putting my name forward for this stint.

"Bring in something different," said Paul's producer, Mark Wilson, and how different can you get than Spanish Albarino? I chose Albarino because it's one of the world's trendiest white wine varieties and it's piquing the interest of winegrowers here. In fact we are counting down the days to the release of New Zealand's first Albarino made by Coopers Creek from grapes grown by Doug Bell in Gisborne. This morning when I spoke to Simon Nunns, the Coopers Creek winemaker, he said they were waiting on the labels for this 'Select Vineyard' wine so the debut is very close indeed.

Robin Ransom of Ransom Wines in Matakana has it planted too although he won't be producing  until 2012. Robin said he was attracted to Albarino because of where it grows in Spain on the north west coast in Galicia. The climate in Galicia is cooler and wetter than in Auckland and the thick-skinned Albarino grape obviously relishes those conditions.

Albarino has also been planted in the Awatere Valley by Stanley Estates and they say they will debut Albarino in October this year.

It will be interesting to see how the New Zealand styles develop.

Spanish White Guerilla Albarino 2009, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry, is imported into New Zealand by Martin Cahnbley So it's available to buy directly off the Planet Wine website or from the several wine shops that stock it. In Auckland that is at Village Winery in Mt Eden, First Glass in Takapuna, Point Wines in Northcote, Blend in Herne Bay, Wine Direct in Parnell and Artisan Fine Wines in Elliot St, and in Wellington at On Trays in Petone. It shouldn't cost more than $20.

Click here for the podcast

Anyway, Paul Henry said he liked the wine and I enjoyed the banter with Paul - even though, as Paul pointed out, facial expressions don't work on radio.

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

Wine of the Week, Wednesday Roundup and Yoga

The Wine of the Week has been posted - albeit a week later, but letter late than never. Some things are worth waiting for, so they say.  Like Churton Marlborough Viognier 2010. The best Viogniers in New Zealand are quite sublime, and this heady number is one of them. I touched on it briefly in yesterday's blog entry, 'Lunch with the Churtons', but my Wine of the Week review is more about the vineyard and this particular wine, which I loved so much I had to share. Click here to read more.

Last Wednesday the First Glass tasting was a night of fun and games. Kingsley and Andrew decided it would be fun tasting through the alphabet and this tasting was Part 1: A to L. The challenge for the organisers was to come up with a tasting order that made sense, and while we started with A is for Albarino, many of the following relationships were a little obscure, like D is for Donaldson - the surname of the winemaker. Click here for my reviews.

The A is for Albarino wine the was one of the highlights for me. Spanish White Guerilla Albarino  2009 ($19.99) had me stumped as to variety however. It initially had a Chardonnay-like scent with richness to the palate, but it finished lifted and floral, more like Viognier than Chardonnay - and as you know from my Wine of the Week, I'm liking these full-bodied, soft, aromatic wines. Fun label too. Don't know who is importing them, but I see from international websites, there is a whole range of wines and they are described as 'revolutionary' for their packaging. Check out this link for more.

And lastly - I suspect you are a wine lover if you are reading this blog, but are you also a yoga fanatic? Even if you are not, you may want to check out this clip for a bit of a giggle ...

Click to play

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

Lunch with the Churtons

'Lunch with the Churtons,' is something Captain Heaphy probably wrote on his calendar, or in his diary, more than once especially when he was courting his bride, Kate, in the late 1840s. So when I wrote 'Churton lunch 'on my calendar recently, I thought about the name association.

  • Churton is my maiden name and Kate, who won the heart of the Charles Heaphy, was my great-great-aunt.
  • Churton Wines are named for a farm in Church Pulverbatch in Shropshire, England, where winemaker Sam Weaver grew up.

I can trace my family history back to 1604 when my g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, William, married his wife, Ales, in Malpas, Cheshire. However my g-g-g-g-grandfather, John, and his wife, Mary, lived in Whitchurch, Shropshire after they married in 1753. Although in different shires, the towns are only 9 kilometres apart.
However Sam Weaver's Church Pulverbatch is about 48 kilometres south of Whitchurch and it seems no-one in my direct line of descendants comes from there. Church Pulverbatch has been colloquially known as Churton since the 13th century, but it seems to be a red herring in my family history research.

But I digress.

samweaver.jpg (52461 bytes)I was looking forward to the Churton Wines lunch on the day of the Winter Solstice, an important date on the biodynamic calender. Sam's wines are definitely made to go with food and a chef could do the wines more justice than I could. I was also looking forward to catching up with Sam. I accepted the invitation and I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed the wines and the food.

Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is bone dry and has a slightly smoky nuance to the scent from the 10% oak. It's rich and stylish with an earthy, savoury backbone from aging on lees, with well balanced bright acidity, a herbal inflection and heritage apple lingering. It was matched to buffalo mozzarella with semi-dried tomato and a leaf of basil. Perfectly divine. Those who ate oyster wrapped in smoked salmon with a fennel and caper dressing, said that was an exciting match, particularly the salmon.

Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is also a little smoky (7% oak) and even though the wine is bone dry, the flavours are rich and sweet. I get dried pineapple, honeysuckle and candied fennel fronds with an underlying ripple of phenolics. Aging beautifully, it's the type of SB I like to drink. The richness of the wine was masterful with scallops wrapped in pancetta on a cauliflower puree.

Churton Marlborough Viognier 2010 is the first V from Churton. Again a smoky nuance to the scent, this rich wine (14.8% alc) has textural complexity and layers of apricot, honeysuckle, spice and citrus. Tortellini pasta was filled with a rabbit and buffalo ricotta cheese farce – divine, and drizzled with citrus butter sauce – divine. I would have liked just these two components without the slightly thick, tough pasta. 

The ruby coloured Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 is tight and savoury with hints of smoky bacon and crushed red berry scents. It seems so savoury and earthy, then cherry fruit expands beautifully on the palate. Sam is happy with this wine as he feels it shows what they are doing in the vineyard. With the food - venison w beetroot, forest mushroom and a Gorgonzola sauce, the mouthfeel effect is creamy. The highlights on the plate were the venison and mushrooms - I thought the beetroot was a little too sweet.

Finally, Churton The Abyss Pinot Noir 2008, named for the part of the vineyard the fruit comes from. A funky, muscular wine, dark coloured with brooding earthy leathery aromas and texturally rich, the fruit more concentrated and seemingly much riper. It's intensely savoury with firm tannins and if I had tasted blind I wouldn't pick as from Marlborough. "It's not Marlborough," says Sam, perhaps in reference to his high altitude site that looks down on the valley floor. The food match was confit of duck leg with porcetta and pistachio stuffing and a Jerusalem artichoke puree.

If you ever get to dine with the Churtons, either at a restaurant like Toto with Sam Weaver and the Churton Wines, or with the people with the name, you'll end up feeling quite replete. And when you are dining on food that's had a lot of thought into showing the wines at their best, you'll know why food accompanying wine is best.

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

Trivia - Top wines at Webb's auctions in the 2010/2011 year

During some family research I came across this interesting snippet on Webb's, the auctioneers, website - They list the top ten prices achieved across genres in the 2010/11 financial year, and wine is one of the genres. Here is the top ten by lot - but the number 2 placed lot, is actually the number one in value as it is for one bottle, whereas the top lot is for 12 bottles. If you are sitting on DRC, it could be quite valuable.

$15,500 – (12) 1995 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$14,700 – (1) 1971 DRC, Romanée Conti
$12,700 – (12) 2007 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$12,300 – (12) 2001 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$12,300 – (6) 2003 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$11,600 – (12) 1997 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$10,500 – (6) 2003 Ch Ausone
$9,500 – (9) 1996 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$9,200 – (12) 2002 Ch Lafite Rothschild
$9,100 – (6) 2003 Ch Latour

In July 2009 a single bottle of 1990 DRC Romanee-Conti sold at a Webb's auction for $10,850 – at the time it was believed to be a New Zealand record for a 750ml bottle of wine.

As for the family research, my great-grandfather's diary achieved the 5th highest price in the rare books section. My GGF, William Churton, was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in September 1846. More on the Churtons in my next blog entry.

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

Auckland on top in the Spiegelau International Wine Competition

The Trophy winners were announced at the Spiegelau International Wine Competition Awards Dinner held in Auckland on Friday night. These are the lucky winners, judged as the Best of the Best in their respective classes - and congratulations especially to Villa Maria, whose Single  Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010 - from Auckland fruit grown at their winery in Mangere - was acclaimed the Champion Wine of the Show. It's more endorsement of my belief that some of the best Chardonnays in New Zealand come from Auckland. Whoo-eee~!

Champion Sparkling Wine: Daniel Le Brun Methode Traditionnelle Brut NV
Champion Gewurztraminer: Charles Wiffen Gewurztraminer 2009
Champion Pinot Gris: Red Tussock Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009
Champion Riesling: Glasnevin Classic Riesling 2008
Champion Sauvignon Blanc: Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 43 Degrees Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Champion Chardonnay: Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010
Champion Viognier: CJ Pask Gimblett Road Viognier 2010
Champion Other White Variety: Bimbadgen Signature Semillon 2007
Champion Sweet Wine: Forrest Botrytised Riesling 2009
Champion Pinot Noir: Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009
Champion Merlot: Church Road Cuve Hawke's Bay Merlot 2009
Champion Cabernet Sauvignon: Clearview Estate Old Olive Block 2009
Champion Syrah: Weeping Sands Waiheke Island Syrah 2010
Champion Other Red Variety: Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago 2009
Champion Fortified Wine: Williams & Humbert Pedro Ximenez 12 Year Old Sherry
Champion Wine of the Show: Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010

Check up this report on the evening by Heather Battersby of Wine Jobs Online - it's nice to see writing like this about genuine people in the wine industry with no hidden agendas.  More please Heather.

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

Warm, cosy, cuddly Merlot

Merlot was on the tasting agenda tonight. It's the weather for it now that winter has finally arrived - and as if to affirm that, the last of the oak leaves finally let go during a storm yesterday. Wine expectations: warm, cosy cuddly reds. The outcome: warm, cosy, cuddly reds. Here's what we tried:

Sileni 'The Triangle' Hawkes Bay Merlot 2007 - bright blackberry red savoury smelling with dried herbs and leather; masses of succulent red and black berry fruit, smoky oak, hints of chocolate, tar and leather. The fruit is all upfront and then the savoury richness of the wine comes through. Full-bodied and powerful with firm tannins, a lasting finish and underlying acidity hinting of its potential to age. A serious wine, it was the one I placed top in the tasting - and so it should be given the quality of the 2007 vintage in Hawkes Bay. 14% alc. $34.95.

Askerne Hawkes Bay Hawkes Bay Reserve Merlot 2006 - densely coloured with a smoky oak and blackberry aroma and a rich, creamy palate with red cherry fruit, sweet cedary oak, hints of mint and plush brushed-suede tannins. There are underlying nuances of dried herbs, perhaps tobacco, a hint of sweet leather and juicy red berry acidity. Medium to full-bodied in style with plenty of structure and a lingering finish where hints of chocolate come through. Five years old and still a contender. I like this. 13.5% alc. $29.95.

Waimea Nelson Bolitho SV Nelson Merlot 2008 - dense black plummy red. Chocolatey oak on the nose with cigar box, dried herbs and fruit cake cherries. Immediately red fruit infiltrates the palate – redcurrants, raspberries and just ripe plums – but the acidity of the fruits dissolves into the creamy oak and the meaty savouriness takes over. This is a 'roast lamb with redcurrant and mint' type of wine as well as a 'warm the cockles of the heart' wine. There's plushness to the texture, the tannins are firm yet fine, there's lots of creamy oak, the finish is full-bodied with chocolate and cherry flavours lingering and the aftertaste is fulfilling and satisfying. 13% alc. $26.90.

Matawhero Gisborne Merlot 2009  - dark red coloured with a moderately restrained aroma in the context of this tasting. On tasting there's masses of creamy oak, sweet cherries, black currants and a touch of spiced plum. An immediately approachable and juicy wine on the medium side of full-bodied with a rounded demeanour and firm tannins providing structure. Meaty nuances detected on the nose linger on the finish with leather, a touch of nugget and dried herbs – the juicy fruit pushing through again to keep everything in balance. 13.2% alc. $25.90.

Saint Clair Marlborough Merlot 2010 - dense black red and seemingly very youthful with aromas of dark chocolate, nuances of mint, hints of cigar box and leather. Quite thick and chunky textured with stewed blackberry fruit. Savoury, earthy and meaty with charry oak but a rich fruitiness to balance the savouriness. Firm tannins and heat to the finish leave the mouth with a plush warm feel. A nuance of pepper adds a spicy veneer, then a touch of mint comes through as the flavours linger. 14% alc. $21.50.

So when the wines were revealed, I found that five vintages were represented - but tasting the youngest and oldest together, I would never have guessed it. There's plenty of generosity in New Zealand merlot and from the top of the South Island to the top of the North, it seems to go very well. 

Food Match: well my match of Spag Bol was not very successful. The Matawhero was the best of a bad food match bunch. I think several of these wines would have been better with  lamb with mint and a redcurrant sauce.

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

Becoming redundant as consumers take over as wine tasters

If I was merely a wine loving consumer, and wanted to have a crack at wine writing, I'd be in like lightning applying for this new wine writing job. CJ Pask wants wine tasters and the pay and benefits are wine, wine and more wine.   Here's what the advert says:

We want an everyday New Zealander!

The world of wine is full of wild expressions, technical terms, and exotic flavours many of us have never heard of or tasted!

Can you write a review we can all relate to?

This is your chance to become our wine consultant on a monthly basis. Each month we will send you 6 bottles of wine, one bottle for reviewing and the rest for you to enjoy!

Your review will be sent out in an email to our loyal database.

Sounds like you??

20 applicants will be chosen, of which we will send one free bottle of wine for a trial review.
If your review is picked, you will become our very first wine consultant for the next 6 months!

What have you got to lose?! This can be done entirely in your own time.

No CV necessary, just a short note on why we should pick you! Please send all applications via email with name, email address, and phone number for contact to

- All applicants must be 18 years of age or older
- 20 trial applicants to be picked on 25th July 2011
- Job is available on a 6 month contract

I've a feeling this may become the new model  - consumers reviewing wines for consumers - and even though that's what I'm trying to do it's going to make people like me redundant.

Here are some quick vibes on the new CJ Pask range, named after CJ Pask co-owner and managing director, Kate Radburnd. I've written in consumer-speak, I hope, with no wild expressions, techo terms and exotic flavours that no-one has ever heard of.

My favourite is Kate Radburnd Sun Kissed Pinot Gris 2010. It's crisp and seems quite dry and the flavours are fresh apple and pear (hardly exotic) with just the right amount of zesty spice. It slips down easily and it's good with and without food - chicken and pork are recommended.

Kate Radburnd Bud Burst Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is bright and fruity. It's not a leap out of the glass and grab you around the throat type of sauv with acidity that makes your eyes pop while etching your teeth. It's soft and easy with fruity flavours of peach and nectarine with a backbone of green gooseberries (southerners know what these are) and tangy herbs.

Kate Radburnd Vine Velvet Pinot Noir 2009 is a light savoury red that's terrific with food. It seems a bit thin just as a drink but match it to bacon-wrapped steak topped with mushrooms and gosh, it's perfect.

All of the wines retail about $17.

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

Finding a wine to toast American Independence Day

"I'm looking for a white Zinfandel or rosé," said Lin in her email message.
"I don't know where you'd find one in New Zealand. White Zin is a hard sell here."
But I suggested she contact Chris Carrad at the Wine Circle in Kumeu. Chris started his specialist wine shop to fill a gap in the market, to sell he kind of wines he would like to buy. And so he has a terrific range of American wines with labels including Au Bon Climat, Stag's Leap, Ste Michelle, Bricco Bruon, Dare, Francis Coppola, Flowers, Hedges, Cupe, Seghesio and Viader - if there is a better range of USA wines in New Zealand, please let me know. If anyone knows where to find white Zin in New Zealand, he would. And if you are looking for a USA wine for your American Independence Day toast, perhaps the Wine Circle is the place to go. But wait, there's more ...

Chris has teamed up with Ribier Restaurant, for an American Independence Day themed dinner, next Sunday night, July 10th. It's a rare opportunity to try a range of North American wines. The menu sounds exciting.

Amuse Bouche
The Great American Hamburger
Domaine St Michelle Blanc de Blancs NV (Columbia Valley, Washington)

Salmon, crispy chicken wing and corn
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Chardonnay 09 (Santa Barbara, California)

Smoked Potato, quail egg and ham on hay, with mustard sauce
Au Bon Climat La Bauge Au-Dessus Pinot Noir 2007 (Santa Maria Valley, California)

Grilled rib-eye steak, gravy and beans
Viader Proprietary Red 2007 (Napa, California)
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Napa, California)

Apple Pudding, strawberry and traditional lemonade granita
Ste Michelle Eroica Riesling 2008 (Columbia Valley, Washington)

Tickets are $135 each and the price includes the wine. Email Chris Last I heard there were only a few spaces left. Ribier Restaurant is adjacent to Wine Circle, at 3/329a, SH16 Huapai.

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

Taylors from the Clare Valley with Helen McCarthy

Imagine this wine options question: 'Is this gewurztraminer from Marlborough, Alsace or the Clare Valley?' Most options competitors I know would immediately cross out Clare Valley. Why? Because it's not a place we think of as gewurztraminer coming from and is the least likely option of the three. But gewurztraminer is being produced in the Clare Valley – a Google search reveals at least three.

Taylors Clare Valley Gewurztraminer 2010 has distinctly varietal aromas of violets, Turkish delight and lychees and all the flavours you expect in gewurz are there. Evidently it's catching on in the Adelaide Hills area too.

I entered a competition to win to lunch at the Langham with Helen McCarthy – winemaker for Taylors Estate. It was a women in wine luncheon with Helen joining Jules Taylor – winemaker for her self-named label, and Sarah Scott – viticulturist for Allan Scott Wines.

I had planned to take my sister – a treat for her birthday. I didn't win the double lunch ticket so we went to Blossoms in Kumeu and the driver came along too, making three. Actually, I haven't struck a win with any of the online competitions I've entered. But I wasn't too fussed as Helen McCarthy was hosting the First Glass tasting that night.

Helen is a vivacious winemaker, enthusiastic about her craft and proud of the wines and the direction they are taking, particularly the Chardonnay, which she says, "is now a finer style".

The 'estate' wines, line priced at $14.99 (on special) are bargains, and the accessible 80 Acres Shiraz Viognier 2008, at $13.99 (on special) a supple version of this trendy blend. The Taylors Estate Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is remarkable quality for the price. It's from a year that Helen describes as, " … magnificent for Cabernet Sauvignon in the Clare Valley". However my favourite red on the night was Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2008, a blend of Clare Valley and McLaren Vale fruit.

Helen explained that Jaraman is the aboriginal word for seahorse and the seahorse became an icon for Taylors after they discovered fossilised seahorses when excavating their dam. The three seahorses on the label represent the three Taylor bothers. They tried keeping live seahorses in an aquarium at their cellar door, but the creatures turn their tails upside down at any minor fluctuation in temperature or light, so rather than endangering more of this species, they now have glass seahorses instead.

So the reds were sensational – particularly in relation to their price, and the whites – well my favourite (despite there being a gewurz in the lineup) was the Taylors St Andrews Clare Valley Riesling 2005. It had been poured at the wine options last Sunday, so the second time tasting in just four days. At the wine options I wrote, " ... a fantastic example of moderately aged Riesling ...". A beautiful wine that is testament to how well dry Clare Valley rieslings can age.

Click here to check out my reviews of the twelve wines tasted with Helen.

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