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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.

You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.

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Archive: September 2011
Sep 30th: Stoneleigh with Latitude
Sep 28th: Wine me Up Wednesday on radio Live: Ranking RWC countries by wine production
Sep 27th: A Sacred tasting with Tony Bish
Sep 22nd: Wine Me Up Wednesday: Ten Tips for Cellaring Wine
Sep 21st: Growing old Gracefully
Sep 18th: Wine of the Week: Ake Ake Northland Merlot 2009
Sep 15th: Wine Me Up Wednesday: Savouring the North
Sep 12th: Wine of the Week: Muddy Water Unplugged Riesling 2009
Sep 10th: All Blacks, Pinot Blacks and Beetlejuice
Sep 8th: Book Review: Pinot Central by Alan Brady
Sep 7th: Wine Me Up Wednesday: Legends, Achievements, Roaring Meg and Slapjack
Sep 5th: Cabernet Day - Kidnappers Cliff, Te Awa and Mills Reef
Sep 4th: Glitz, Glamour, Trophy Winners and Legends
Sep 1st: Wine Me Up Wednesday on Radio Live: Kumeu River, Nautilus and Twelve
Older Entries

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

Stoneleigh with Latitude

When Montana Wines (now Brancott) planted grapevines in their Brancott Vineyard in 1973, it was an historic occasion. But the vines didn't take and we know from the stories that most of the people tasked with the planting didn't know what they were doing. The cuttings were planted upside down and possibly even sideways and then, with lack of irrigation, those that were planted the right way up curled up their toes, dried up and died. When a second planting took place in 1975, they didn't ask the kids from nearby Fairhall School to have a day in the vineyard, like they did the time before.

Jamie Marfell was one of those school children in 1973. He was just 8 years old. But the experience didn't deter him. He continued to work in the vineyards in his school holidays and his first paying job earned him $2.50 an hour. A fourth generation Marlburian, with a beach gifted to Marlborough by his great grandfather (Marfell's Beach is now a wine brand for Jamie's cousin Stu), Jamie left Marlborough to pursue his early winemaking career but returned to take over the winemaking reins at Stoneleigh in 2002.

Stoneleigh, so named for the deep stony profile of the vineyard, was originally a Corbans brand. Corbans and Montana are now part of the Pernod Ricard family but in the 1970s they were rivals and when Corbans bought land in Marlborough in 1975, they wanted to be as far away from Montana as possible. Montana was doing their second planting in the clay soils on the southern side of the Wairau Valley and the rocky soils on the northern side couldn't be more different. And as well, Corbans planted their vines on rootstock. The Riesling vines, which still grow today, must be some of the oldest, if not the oldest, in Marlborough.

Because I decided not to go to the media lunch, but instead be entertained at the First Glass consumer tasting by Jamie, and Pernod Ricard's fine wine man Philip Bothwell, I missed out on a vertical of Stoneleigh Riesling and I didn't taste the new Latitude wines with food. But I had lot of laughs! Phil is Irish, by the way, and an Irish joke session was included.

The new Latitude wines have a recommended retail of $26.99, but were selling for $10 less on the night. They are sealed with the classy Stelvin Lux screwcaps. There are four wines in the range.

Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was described as a Sancerre style. Very restrained on the nose with a dry flinty steely palate, it's a style that would go well with food. 
Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 has a pleasing seam of sweetness that balanced the earthy characters that are possibly emphasised by the wild ferment. There's classic pear, apple & stonefruit spectrum with strudel spices adding character.
Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 is made in a style that most of the drinkers at First Glass approved of on the night. Bold with toasty oak, caramel, wild yeast funk, fig and stonefruit and a long, creamy finish.
Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 is a lighter style but one I would recommend to friends, especially at a $16.99 price. Fruit is in the strawberry / raspberry spectrum, the texture is silky and it compounds in richness and mouthfeel with a floral prettiness sprouting from the earthy finish.

Check out the full reviews of these wines, plus the rest of the wines tasted at the First Glass Wednesday tasting at this link.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Sep 28th 2011

Wine Me Up Wednesday on Radio Live: Ranking RWC countries by wine production

As most of the country is afflicted with Rugby World Cup fever, I thought it could be interesting for Wine Me Up Wednesday on Radio Live with Paul Henry to see how the RWC teams might have played if their rugby prowess was in sync with their wine production. Who would be in the quarters, semis and the final if wine production was the criteria? And who wouldn't make the grade at all? The results are a little surprising.

Click here to listen to the podcast and the wine review - the Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011, which happens to be my Wine of the Week as well.

Bottom of their respective pools
Fiji, Tonga and Samoa: no wine produced in these countries. They make more potent brews. Scotland: it's said to be too cold for wine, but a brave highlander has planted a vineyard. No grapes harvested as yet

Fourth placed in their pools
Ireland: very experimental but someone has actually produced a Sauv Blanc. No match for Kiwi Sauv, however.
Wales: a fledgling industry - only about 20 vineyards.
Namibia: a few vineyards, but wine production is small.
England: doing well with sparkling wines and aromatic whites in the south. It will be a while before they can challenge NZ with Pinot Noir.

Missing out by a whisker on the playoffs
and Canada: they played a real life scenario last night. A draw, but no further progress in the competition.
Georgia:  they get a bonus points for being the oldest wine producing country in the competition. Very close, but still not enough to make the playoffs.
New Zealand: 
what can we say? They tried so hard? But even at the rate our wine production is growing, they'll never be in the league of the top 8 Rugby World Cup wine producing countries, unless some of the less talented teams fail to qualify next time.

Quarter Finals
The 7th and 8th placed teams, Russia and Romania are equally pegged. Had they played, their games would have resulted in a draw.
Australia comes in 5th, ahead of South Africa. Just not strong enough to make the semis, however. Had they played each other, it would have been a doozer of a game.

Semi Finals
Just four left but the losers of these vital games are USA and Argentina who have to play off for third and fourth. USA is on top on this competition and wins by a margin of 20-14.

and Italy are streaks ahead of the others and it's going to be a hard-fought battle. Had it been the last World Cup, France would have won with a drop goal in the 81st minute. But it's Italy that edges out France (46 – 42) and takes the title in the Rugby World Cup wine production competition.


1 Italy
2 France
4 Argentina
5 Australia
6 South Africa
7 Romania
8 Russia
9 NZ
10 Georgia
11= Canada
11= Japan
13 England
14 Namibia
15 Wales
16 Ireland
17 Scotland
18= Fiji, Samoa, Tonga

Thank goodness this is all a bit of fun as many of us in New Zealand have our hands on our hearts that the All Blacks will win. I do.  Sue.

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

A Sacred tasting with Tony Bish

If you ever get the opportunity, a Tony Bish-hosted tasting is a great night out. I've been to several media/trade tastings with Tony Bish of Sacred Hill Wines but these have been rather serious affairs and the selling point is the focus. But it's altogether different at a consumer tasting because Tony's true personality comes out. He is actually a first class entertainer keeping his audience in fits of laughter between sips of wine. And it wasn't just the stories but also the character studies of some of the legendary names in New Zealand wine.

Interestingly the first wine that Sacred Hill produced was a Sauvignon Blanc, in 1986. The grapes were grown in Hawkes Bay but sent to Auckland for processing at the Coopers Creek winery and Michael Brajkovich, from down the road at Kumeu River, suggested and looked after some barrel ferments. They called the wine Fumé Blanc and that first vintage was a runaway success. It's a style that's synonymous with Sacred Hill as they've made it ever since. But no Fumé Blanc, or Sauvage as they now call it, was on the list for this tasting. But twelve other wines were. Superstars amongst the value-for-money everyday wines.

The hierarchy in the Sacred Hill wines starts at the bottom with the 'Reserves'. These are the wines with the orange label that you find almost everywhere. Next comes the Halo Series, and at around $20 a bottle, they offer remarkable value for money. The Wine Thief (with the white label) is on the third rung of the four-step ladder and at the top are the Special Selection wines with names like Helmsman, Brokenstone and the legendary Rifleman's - one of the country's consistently best Chardonnays.

In the twelves wines was a representative from the four tiers that Sacred Hill makes. The luxury wines aside, my favourite was one of the reds, the Sacred Hill Halo Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2009. Like a Black Doris plum in colour this beauty is perfumed with violets and chocolate and the palate is layered with juicy red and black fruits and chocolate with firm tannins holding it all together. There's a subtle spicy infusion to the flavour and violets and lead pencils linger. A top wine and at an outlay of around $20, it is outstanding value for money.

All of my reviews are on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here to read those reviews. And while you're there, scroll down the page to check out other Wednesday tastings from September, including the NZIWS Trophy winners, more gold medals and some of Cuisine magazine's top red wines.

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

Wine Me Up Wednesday: Ten Tips for Cellaring Wine

Here is this weeks podcast for your enjoyment:

"I prefer to call them rules," says Radio Live Drive host, Paul Henry, on our Wine Me Up Wednesday wine chat yesterday after tasting our featured wine, Main Divide Waipara Valley Riesling 2009 (see below).  Well, as rules are are to be broken, I would prefer to call them tips.  So here are my ten top tips for cellaring wine.

1. Decide why you are cellaring the wine – so you can drink it when it is nicely matured, or for investment.

2. Choose a variety you know will improve in the cellar.

3. Choose a wine from a good vintage – one that is good for the wine style and region. Check with the winemaker his own vintage rating.

4. Choose a wine from an established winemaker. If it is a new label, find out who made the wine and where it was made.

5. Choose a cool place to store the wine with no direct sunlight and where the temperature doesn't fluctuate. If you are super well off, then invest in a wine fridge.

6. Choose a place where vibration is minimal – earthquakes excepted.

7. If you can be bothered, protect the label. Nothing worse than pulling a bottle out and finding a mystery wine because paper lice and silverfish have had a feast. Imperative really for an investment wine. Wrap acid-free paper around the label, then plastic wrap.

8. Store the wine on its side. Yes, you can store screwcapped bottles upright, but it's more efficient space-wise to store on its side and you can purchase neck tags to place around the neck and immediately see what the wine is without pulling it out.

9. Record the wine in your cellar book / database, spreadsheet, whatever – record where you have stored it so it is easy to find and don't forget to record when you drink it otherwise you might go looking for it at a later date and wonder why you can't find it.

10. Cellar several bottles of the same wine. Open one occasionally to see how it is drinking. If you think it is past it, it's time to drink the lot.

There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine and well-cellared wines can offer up the most magnificent drinking experiences.

Riesling is a white wine variety that can cellar for decades, especially the bone dry and the delectably sweet. However this weeks featured wine is one I consider to be drinking superbly now. Main Divide Waipara Valley Riesling 2009, $19.99, the second label from the winemakers at Pegasus Bay, is the current release. I would cellar the Pegasus Bay Riesling and drink the Main Divide right now, so long as it is chilled to the bones because that is when it drinks best and Paul agreed when I poured him comparison glasses of the same wine. One came from a bottle that had been super chilled and the other, although a cool early spring room temperature, hadn't seen a refrigerator at all.  

Check out this Wine of the week review of mine from late last year - it features Main Divide Riesling 2009. Funny that!

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

Growing old Gracefully

At a notable birthday, older wines were the order of proceedings for a small family dinner at a local BYO restaurant. I had recently bought a bottle of Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2006 from Kumeu River's museum release currently available at their cellar door ($50 a bottle) and while a baby in comparison to other offerings, it was a real treat with its tantalising aromas and exquisite Chardonnay flavours. With tropical fruit, lemon hokey pokey and lovely oak and mealy nuances, it lived up to every expectation and when matched to scallops with a burnt butter apple and lemon sauce, the match was superb.

A wine was required to match to a dish that had me drooling when I saw the menu online. It was the Chef's signature dish of Crispy Crackling Pork free range pork belly, slowly baked overnight, served with warm potatoes & fresh seasoned vegetables with apple and prune sauce. Sadly the meal did not live up to expectations, the meat dried out, the potatoes reheated from yesterday and the broccoli, cauli and potatoes almost raw. Most of my food went back to the kitchen. But the wines made up for it.

older.jpg (66851 bytes)

Dry River Amaranth Pinot Gris 2002 from Martinborough had been selected to match the pork. Nine years on from vintage it's a rich yellow gold and the delicately scented aroma is floral and a little bready. Rich to the taste, with obvious residual sugar, a touch of viscosity to the texture and perhaps some botrytis influence, as apricot came to mind. Long and concentrated with a burst of lemon verbena lingering on the finish.

An older Pinot Noir had also been debated and in the end a Pegasus Bay Prima Donna 1996 was taken (after the 1998 we opened, thankfully prior to going to the restaurant, was corked!) The murky orange-red colour, consistent with an unfiltered wine of this age, was hardly noticeable in the dim light of the restaurant. Appealing aromas of macerated cherries with a touch of spice that carries through to the palate that has a delicious vinous sweetness to balance the earthy savouriness. Texture is fine yet there's an inherent grip and fascinating grubbiness. Absolutely perfect with my husband's rump of lamb.

And last Newton Forest Cornerstone Cabernet Merlot 1998. What a terrific wine. It's still an amazing deep red colour with a crimson glow and the plummy aromas have earthy mushroom nuances too. Vibrant in the palate, juicy and savoury with sweet oak, plums, spice, mint and cassis and firm but nicely integrating tannins. Still evolving and according to one of my sisters, a perfect match to Prime eye fillet beef, potato garlic mash, fresh baby spinach, field mushrooms and a Kikorangi blue cheese sauce. Maybe I'll order this next time.

The restaurant was Aubergine Albany and corkage is $5 a bottle. We like this BYO, but just don't excited about the pork.

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

Wine of the Week: Ake Ake Northland Merlot 2009

It's one thing going to a winery and tasting wines while you're chatting with the winemaker. If he or she is amiable and the surroundings attractive, you'll no doubt walk away with a bottle or two. But what does the wine taste like when you're in another place, like at home, when you are opening the wine to have with dinner? Does it live up to your expectations?

In my experience some do and some don't. And some that did after my Northland trip earlier this week were the wines from Ake Ake and Marsden Estate. Experience counts, I say.

The wine I've selected as this weeks Wine of the Week is Ake Ake Northland Merlot 2009. This is a rounded velvety wine that's nice to drink and suits a wide range of meat dishes, which is interesting as the wine is made by a vegetarian.

Click here to read my Wine of the Week review.

If you by chance happen to be in the Bay of Islands, at Kerkierki, next weekend, then snap up your tickets for Ake Ake's Winemakers Lunch. The date is  Saturday 24th September from 12 noon until 3pm-ish. All of the new release wines will be matched to a 7-course lunch, each dish to complement a wine. Tickets will be $120.00 per person. Check out

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

Wine Me Up Wednesday: Savouring the North

I've just returned from a few days in Northland, the birthplace of New Zealand wine. In 1819 grapevines were first planted at Kerikeri by Samuel Marsden, on his second visit to New Zealand, and wine was first made at Waitangi by James Busby just shy of twenty years later.  

Wind the clock forward some 170-odd years and there are some very exciting wines being produced in Northland. But because most of the producers are tiny, very little is exported overseas. In fact only wines from the larger producers are seen outside of the region. Many of the smaller producers sell only from their cellar door, or at festivals and markets, and to the local restaurants. And for that that reason the Northland wine industry flies under the radar. But tourists are in for a treat when they visit and they'll find some very exciting wines to taste.

The grapes that grow best in Northland to date are Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the whites and Syrah, Chambourcin, Pinotage and fairly consistent Bordeaux varieties in the right years. And Cottle Hill has produced the region's first Dolcetto, and it's a very exciting taste experience. But more on that later.

The wines tasted with Paul Henry on Wine Me Up Wednesday on Radio Live came from the two biggest producers in the region. For today's podcast, click here.

Rod and Cindy McIvor established Marsden Estate in 1993 and they have gone from strength to strength, learning from their mistakes and the inconsistent weather patterns. Their first harvest was in 1995 and in 1997 they opened their restaurant and their winery and the wines have been made on site ever since. In my mind Marsden Estate is the premier winery in the Bay of Islands. They make arguably the region's best wines and Rod makes wine for many of the smaller producers too.

Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2009 ($35) is a golden topaz colour. The aroma is citrussy with some lovely savoury mealy nuances coming through. It's a bold kind of Chardonnay with oak a prominent feature but that said, the oak is integrating nicely. It tastes spicy, creamy and savoury with fruit in the stonefruit and melon spectrum. It's a mouthfilling wine that compounds in richness and fleshiness and has lovely balance and length. I enjoyed this at the Marsden Estate restaurant with with snapper on a French bean cassoulet. An interesting food combo but it went so well with this powerful wine.

Karikari Estate is New Zealand's farthest-north winery and winemaker Ben Dugdale makes the wines on site. Karikari Estate Hell Hole 2008 ($22) is a blend of most of the red grapes grown on the vineyard. There's 65% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 10% made up of Tannat, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Pinotage.
It's a saturated red black colour and smells quite savoury, earthy and funky with perhaps a little rosemary and horse saddle. Tasting the wine the leathery savouriness is tempered by creamy American oak and concentrated red and black fruits - cherries and redcurrants come to mind - and a spicy finish. The tannins are smooth and velvety and the overall impression is of a juicy wine with a sweet/savoury disposition. My food match to this crowd pleaser is juicy sirloin steak and chips, the steak bringing out mocha tones in the wine. I liked this.

Hell Hole is a name entrenched into Northland's history because in the 1830s and '40s it was the slang name for Kororareka, now known as Russell.  At the time it was the largest European settlement in New Zealand with whalers, traders, wild women and other wayward people. Today people can read about some of the characters, both past and present, on the back labels of Karikari Estate's Hell Hole 2008. And in you are up in Northland between 7th and 23rd October, you can see a reenactment on the Russell foreshore as part of the RealNZ festival in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup.

There's much excitement in Northland wine so follow these pages for more updates on the smaller vineyards and to learn more about some of the wacky names.

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

Wine of the Week: Muddy Water Unplugged Riesling 2009

When the news came from Waipara six months ago that Jane and Michael East were selling their Muddy Water winery, vineyards and brand, I felt rather sad. Especially when Jane explained that none of their children shared their dream of being winemakers or travelling the world as wine marketeers. So when neighbouring vineyard, Greystone, approached the Easts with an offer, it seemed logical not to refuse. And the deal was made.

But the Muddy Water brand is going to live on, we are told. And why not when it's such a fabulous name ...

For those of us who are not sure of what the future holds, we can still relish the Muddy Water wines up to and including the 2010 vintage, that longtime and now ex-Muddy Water winemaker Belinda Gould made. I've been a long time fan of her wines, the Chardonnay always one most enjoyable from the region, that fabulous and unique Pinotage, and of course the Rieslings.

Muddy Water Unplugged Riesling 2009 is this weeks Wine of the Week. Click here to read the rest of this entry.

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

All Blacks, Pinot Blacks and Beetlejuice

I came up with a brainwave last night as I watched 100,000 people or so celebrate the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in downtown Auckland (and being quite thankful that I wasn't squeezed in there). To show my support for the home team, the All Blacks, I decided I should dedicate the next six-week period to the Pinot Blacks. Or I could go all français and drink Pinot Noirs to show my support for the tous les noirs, but that wouldn't really work as the French call our team les All Blacks. So Pinot Blacks it is!

First up in the campaign: Wooing Tree Beetlejuice Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008.
No longer the current release, but perhaps bottles lurk in some of my readers' cellars, and you are in for a nice surprise if you have a bottle to open because in September 2011, this translucent garnet-coloured wine is beautifully harmonious and balanced. The savouriness is funky and delicious while the fruit, which is more bittersweet cherry and red guavas now than the sweet cherry and plum it was 18 months ago, infuses the savouriness beautifully. Nuances of wild thyme and rose hips come through and there's also a suggestion of thyme-infused mushrooms and game. And despite the 14.5% alcohol, it seems more medium-bodied and drier than Beetlejuices that have come before and after it (see my review of the 2009 here). Price on release was around $28. Worked with my chicken drums cooked with Chinese spices, too.

The other thing I decided last night that I would pick the team to back for each Rugby World Cup game based on the quality of their country's wine. First up, New Zealand v Tonga. A no-brainer. tonga is not a wine producer. However, I will probably be backing the losing team in the Scotland v Romania game. And it will be difficult when New Zealand plays France. But if I have a taste-off of Pinot Blacks from both countries, same vintage, same price, the home team may just have the advantage.

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

Book Review: Pinot Central by Alan Brady

I've been reading Alan Brady's memoirs, Pinot Central, which was launched at the Gibbston Valley winery last year. And I've been enjoying the book immensely. It's the kind of book that I'd like to write about wine, a book that has a timelessness about it.

Irish-born Alan Brady bought a property in the Gibbston Valley in January 1977 as a holiday getaway but it wasn't long before he left his Dunedin television job to retire there with his young family.

Thinking about what they could do with the property once they had cleared the flat bits, growing gooseberries was a passing fancy … but in the end grapes seemed more romantic … and drinking wine you had made yourself was more satisfying than yoghurt flavouring. So despite people telling him he was crazy Alan planted a trial vineyard with Pinot Gris and Chasselas in 1981, producing Central Otago's first Pinot Gris in 1984.

Alan swayed over the bank manager with his vision of a wine tourism operation and other grape varieties were added in the ensuing years. The first crop of Pinot Noir was harvested in 1987, the famous cave was constructed in 1995 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Alan left Gibbston Valley at the end of 1997 to establish Mt Edward and he also has a label, 'The Wild Irishman'.

Pinot Central, ISBN 9780143205104, is published by Penguin. It's a large format paperback with 224 pages and colour and photographs throughout. RRP is $67 although you can buy brand new for around $60 or, if you are like me, borrow it from your library. The Dewey classification number in the Auckland library system is 641.220993 BRA. A winemaker's story that is definitely worth reading.

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

Wine Me Up Wednesday: Legends, Achievements, Roaring Meg and Slapjack

Central Otago was the theme of my Radio Live chat today with Paul Henry (click here to listen to the podcast).

When I think of Central Otago I think of dramatic and contrasting landscapes, the light and shade, the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the winter snows, the summer smells of dried thyme, briar rose, warm earth and baked rocks … and the wine, particularly Pinot Noir.

So what a fantastic recognition for the man they call the Godfather of Central Otago Pinot Noir, Alan Brady, founder of Gibbston Valley Wines, who was awarded the Sir George Fistonich Medal for a Legend of NZ Wine at the New Zealand International Wine Show awards evening.

Sir George, founder of the locally and internationally renowned Villa Maria Estate, presented the medal to Alan on Saturday night, then flew to London on Sunday to attend the International Wine Challenge awards evening, where he himself was bestowed with a very prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the wine industry. This happened about 11am this morning NZ time (the evening of September 6th UK time). A fantastic honour not only for George, but for New Zealand wine. Congratulations!

The other achievement mentioned at the end of the program was Taupo-based wine writer, Emma Jenkins, achieving the prestigious Master of Wine qualification, announced yesterday. She is one of 11 newly-inducted MWs, total now 300 worldwide, and one of nine resident in New Zealand. Furthermore, she is the only NZ-born female MW living in NZ. Congratulations Emma.

Wine Reviews

Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Gris 2011
Champion Pinot Gris at the 2011 NZ International Wine Show
$21.95 from and at the cellar door in Felton Road, Bannockburn. $19.99 to $22.99 elsewhere. Widely available.
This wine is vibrantly fruity and fresh, brimming with ripe, fleshy tropical fruits with hints of pineapple and passionfruit. Off dry in style. Sure to please.
Paul thought it was stunning.

Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 2009
Champion Pinot Noir at the 2011 NZ International Wine Show
The flagship and a terrific wine, it was also the Champion Exhibition Red Wine at the Air NZ Wine Awards last November.
$85 at and at the cellar door in Felton Road, Bannockburn, and $85 to $95 in the best wine stores.
A monumental Pinot Noir, it's rich purple-red coloured, perfumed and spicy with savoury oak and a brooding earthy, gamey depth. Generously fruity with a fine edge to the velvety tannins, it's only made in the best years and this is truly the best.
Olssens Garden Vineyard was established in 1989, the first vineyard to be planted in the now famous Felton Road, and the first Slapjack was produced in 1998. Made to last – this outstanding 2009 vintage could well go 7 to 10 years.

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

Cabernet Day - Kidnappers Cliff, Te Awa and Mills Reef

The 1st of September was Cabernet Day in the Twitterverse but New Zealand tweeters largely ignored it. Perhaps it is because Cabernet Sauvignon is now a bridesmaid of the red wine grape varieties grown in Godzone. According to the New Zealand Winegrowers Annual report year ended June 2011, Cabernet Sauvignon plantings account for just 1.5% of our vineyard land and Cabernet and blends account for less than 1% of our exports. It's proved to be a tricky grape to grow consistently vintage after vintage, but when conditions are right, some monumental wines can be produced.

Like Coopers Creek SV Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 'Gimblett Gravels, one I selected for a Wine of the Week last December, and now a gold medal winner at the 2011 NZ Internatial Wine Show. My brief note from the NZIWS tasting: "Showing no sign of age, this is serious wine with a savoury leather, cigar box and dark fruit complexity. Silky tannins and underlying succulence complete the picture."

Another NZIWS gold medal winner was Passage Rock Waiheke Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010. I wrote: "Deep, rich and brooding with firm fine tannins, smoky French oak, dried herbs, cassis, plums and spiced cherries. Will develop nicely."

But how emphatically good 100% varietal New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon can be was revealed in a tasting on Cabernet Day last Thursday evening – and not only as wine, but as food matches too.

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Dense purple red in colour with a brightness to the hue, this has a concentrated bouquet that emanates scents of plums, liquorice, smoky French oak and cassis. A little leathery on entry to the palate, but concentrated and savoury with suede-like tannins and a creamy oak veneer. There are also red & black fruits, liquorice, cigar box and spice with some lovely dried herb complexities and a long, fine finish that lingers elegantly. A wine of great finesse to drink now with the right food or cellar. Screwcap. 13.5% alc. $45.
Next day: Luxurious and velvety and despite its youth it caresses every part of the mouth. The depth and concentration is superb.

Kidnapper Cliffs Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Even deeper and more intense than the Mills Reef in hue, this has an opulent spicy oak bouquet and tastes deep, rich and concentrated with thick plush tannins that still have some resolving to do. This is a monumental wine with violets, liquorice, chocolate, leather and smoky French oak combining magnificently and a lovely welling up of vinous sweetness in the mouth as the full-bodied flavours linger with nuances of plums, cake spice and rose petals too. Cork closure. 14% alc. $55.
Next Day: A massive wine, so brooding and leathery, it really needs to be nurtured in the cellar as a long-term proposition.

Te Awa Zone 10 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Deep dark purple red – no clue to its five years of age. A little meaty on the nose, perhaps game, and a leathery funk with a ripe plummy fragrance too. Different to the previous two in flavour profile with hints of mocha while there's a softness to the wine, or perhaps a mellowness, the dry tannins are firm and proud. A characterful wine with an undercurrent of dried mint and rosemary, it' savoury, spicy, vinous and leathery and the finish is deliciously long. Cork closure. 13.5% alc. $38.
Next day: Gorgeous. I like the grip in the wine that hints of its potential longevity – already five years old but could go for 5, 10 or even 15 years more. The depth and concentration to the fruit, the delicate spice and the floral lift to the finish – it's drinking superbly tonight. Just delicious.

Food matches
On Cabernet Day, when the wines were opened, I cooked a Julie Le Clerc-inspired Lamb Shanks recipe. The shanks were marinated and cooked with orange slices, orange juice, onions, garlic, wholegrain mustard and rosemary and the sauce reduced and enhanced with the addition of canned plums, except I used bottled cherries. Accompaniments were potato and celeriac mash, baked grated carrots and minted peas.

The next night we accompanied the wines with medium rare to rare fillet steak, slow cooked mushrooms, celeriac and potato mash, pumpkin baked in cinnamon and cream and brussel sprouts.

The Mills Reef was the most outstanding with the food, followed by the Te Awa Zone 6. Sadly the monumental Kidnappers Cliff is not particularly food friendly yet. So for this reason Mills Reef Elspeth Gimblett Gravels 2009 is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to read the review.

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

Glitz, Glamour, Trophy Winners and Legends

Well-known faces from the New Zealand Wine Industry, and some not so familiar, descended on the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on the night of Saturday 3rd September for the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show Gold Medal and Trophy presentations, and to enjoy sipping on gold medal wines over a four-course dinner. It was a change to proceedings when the Trophy for Champion Chardonnay was presented just prior to the main course coming out.  " ... so you can enjoy this beautiful Chardonnay with your dinner," said competition convenor and New Zealand's foremost supporter of Chardonnay, Kingsley Wood. A bottle of the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2010 was placed on every table. 

Just prior to this Sir George Fistonich from Villa Maria Estate had presented the Sir George Fistonich Medal to the 2011 Legend of New Zealand Wine, Alan Brady. One of the modern day Central Otago pioneers, he established the famous Gibbston Valley Winery in 1981, then Mt Edward Wines in 1997. He's known in wine circles as the godfather of Central Otago Pinot Noir. A truly deserving recipient.

After the main course the sponsors presented remainder of the Trophies to the respective class winners. While the full list and their sponsor can be found on the NZIWS trophy page, in summary the wines were:

Maui Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (made by Tiki Wines)
Kaimira Iti Selection Brightwater Nelson Riesling 2011
Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Central Otago Pinot Gris 2011
Distant Land Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010
Coopers Creek Gisborne Viognier 2010
Bimbadgen Signature McDonalds Road Hunter Valley Semillon 2007
Forrest Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2009
Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur NV
Cumulus Wines Rolling Pink 2011
Olssen's Slapjack Creek Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009
Saltram Mamre Brook Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels 'The Gimblett' 2009
Weeping Sands Waiheke Island Montepulciano 2010
Wolf Blass Gold Label Barossa Shiraz 2009
Krohn Vintage Porto Quinto de Retro Novo 2007

Trophy for Best Commercial White (selling below $20 retail) was Whitehaven Marlborough Chardonnay 2009 while Wolf Blass Shiraz took out the Champion Commercial Red (under $25) Trophy. For Wolf Blass the two trophies were a repeat of last year's double trophy win for the 2008 vintage of the Gold Label Shiraz.

Then the big announcement of the Nissan Champion Wine of the Show, won by Villa Maria SV Keltern Chardonnay 2010. A huge night for Villa Maria and a double-whammy for this wine, having won the overall champion accolade at the Bragato Wine Awards last week.

Just a special mention to the trophy I presented The Trophy for Champion Other White Varieties was won by Bimbadgen Signature McDonalds Road Hunter Valley Semillon 2007. This is a captivating dry white and just fabulous to try. Lemon gold-coloured with a glassy lustre, it is delightfully aromatic with a smoky, lemony, sun-dried hay and floral scent infused with zest of lime and clean tangy flavours with the aromas carrying through to the palate where there are exotic tropical fruits, honeysuckle and talc nuances too. Rich and textural yet zingy and fresh. A very dry wine that will get better and better in the cellar and already does in the glass.  Long and rich, a sensational wine.

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

Wine Me Up Wednesday on Radio Live: Kumeu River, Nautilus and Twelve

An invitation to the opening of The Twelve Bar in Sky City in Auckland was an invitation I decided to accept. And this was a good thing because not only could I see what this 'pop-up' bar looked like, I could talk about it with Paul Henry on Radio Live this week. The Twelve Bar features the wines of the Family of Twelve, twelve New Zealand winemakers that came together for an export-focused marketing alliance in 2005. All the brands represented in the family are privately owned, all have a winery and all have a cellar door – and more importantly they are all great friends. In fact they really are a lovely group of people and the wine they produce showcases the varieties this country produces and the regions they are produced in. They are Kumeu River, Villa Maria, The Millton Winery, Craggy Range, Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, Neudorf, Nautilus, Lawson Dry Hills, Fromm, Pegasus Bay and Felton Road.

The Twelve Bar is the first New Zealand initiative for the group and just six weeks ago it was an idea. They moved into the former I-site in Sky City and transformed it into the most amazing wine bar. Each member of the family has three wines on the wine list, plus the methodes from Nautilus and Palliser, making a selection of 38 wines to choose from. They are all available by the glass and bottle.

Wine reviews

1. Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2006. While the 2009 vintage single vineyard Chardonnays from Kumeu River are released at the winery today (1st September), it was rather exciting for me to find that you can buy well-cellared museum releases at the cellar door, 550 State Highway 16, Kumeu. And it's quicker to get there now from Auckland's CBD with the new northwest motorway extension. This a glorious chardonnay, like a deep citrine gemstone in colour with a tantalising scent of smoky French oak, hazelnuts and the slightest hint of lemon carrying through to the long, rich, fine and elegant palate. A remarkable wine, one of the best wines Kumeu River has ever made and one of the best wines you can buy in New Zealand. The price is $50 a bottle, not bad when you consider it costs $45 for the current release. Just an extra $5 to have it cellared pristinely. And you can continue to cellar for at least another 10 years. Also available online.

2. Nautilus Estate Marlborough Cuvee Methode Traditionelle NV. An incredible bubbles that in a blind tasting could fool people into thinking it is Champagne. Harmonious, and savoury with  lovely but not overpowering baking bread complexity that comes from the three years on the fermentation yeast lees. Such elegant packaging too.  $30 to $40 a bottle, depending where you buy. Read more about the Nautilus on my Wine of the Week.

To play the podcast from yesterday (31st August), click here.

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