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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: November 2011
Nov 30th: The glass does make a difference
Nov 26th: Invivo and Waimea make real Sauv too
Nov 25th: Pascal Schiele presents Gustav Lorentz of Alsace
Nov 23rd: Low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc - does it deliver
Nov 22nd: Gemstones in my Blushing Monk Rosé
Nov 18th: Wednesday 'Wine Me Up' Highlights
Nov 15th: Wine of the Week: Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2007
Nov 14th: Villa Maria Trade Day tasting
Nov 13th: Villa Maria makes wine show history
Nov 12th: 25 years of the Air NZ Wine Awards and Wednesday's highlights
Nov 9th: Ruby and Tawny go head to head on Radio Live
Nov 7th: Wine of the Week: Chard Farm Riesling
Nov 6th: Sages of the NZ Wine Industry reflect on the past
Nov 5th: Air NZ Wine Awards ups #NZwine gold medal tally
Nov 4th: Talking about wine and roses on Radio Live
Nov 3rd: A 21-year-old Chenin Blanc
Nov 2nd: A 33-year-old vintage Port
Older Entries

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

The glass does make a difference

Who better to ask whether a wine glass makes a difference than Radio Live Drive host, Paul Henry. So the wine, Crowded House Pinot Noir 2010, was poured into three different glasses.

  • one from the Radio Live Kitchen, a small glass with approximately 160-ml total capacity.
  • Spiegelau's 'Festival' red wine glass – popular in restaurants, it stands 21.4 cm tall and holds 456-ml and it's price range in NZ is from under $10 to around $17.
  • Spiegelau's 'Authentis' Burgundy glass – a very upmarket and expensive glass, used in top establishments such as The French Café in Auckland, it stands 22.6cm high and holds 750-ml and it's price range in NZ is around $22 to about $49.

Crowded House Pinot Noir 2010 is a deep-hued purple garnet with a succulent cherry and chocolate aroma and a creamy richness and a bright-fruited layer to the earthy savoury flavours with chocolate, cherry, citrus and fruits of the forest combining in the best possible way. The tannins are firm but the savoury finish is succulent, spicy and long. I think what gives this wine the x-factor is that it is a blend of 40% Nelson grapes and 30% each of Marlborough and Central Otago grapes, so picks up the best traits from each region. Retailing around $17 a botte it's a value-packed number and as well it's won gold at both the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show and the 2011 New World Wine Awards, the latter for wines that normally retail under $25. 

It smelt good in the glass from the kitchen, but in the Festival red wine glass I found the aroma more concentrated and intense. Paul, however, couldn't detect any difference at all. But when it came to the gorgeous Authentis Burgundy glass, the wine opened up beautifully. Not surprising, really, as the glass is made for this style of wine. So the answer to the question posed is yes, the 'right' glass can make a difference. Three Spiegelau glasses are pictured below - the Authentis white/multi-purpose glass is on the left (see below as to why I've included it), the Festival red wine is in the middle, the Authentis Burgundy is on the right.

spiegelau.jpg (20463 bytes)

Glasses have changed through the eras. The delicate, dainty glasses our parents / grandparents drank out of are very different to the functional glasses we use today. Now it is possible to find a wine glass for every wine style. Austrian glass maker, Claus Riedel, who is responsible for the wine glass revolution, has even designed a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc glass! 

Riedel has recently suggested that English sparkling wine needs its own special glass, so UK wine magazine, Decanter, asks, "How important is glass shape and size?" by way of an online poll - see The choices are:

  • Very: Different glasses for different wine types really bring out the nuances of the various styles
  • Not at all: It's a con trick - one decent glass is enough
  • Three glasses should cover it: for red; white and sparkling

At the time of writing, the third option had 49% of the votes. The first option had 39% and the second option just 12%.

However I would actually recommend four glasses.

  • One glass for bubbles
  • A white wine glass that can double as a tasting glass - such as the Spiegelau Authentis White / Multi-purpose glass 02, which can double as a tasting glass (pictured above).
  • A versatile red/white/burgundy glass - my favourite is the Schott Zweisel Claret Cru Classic (pictured right).
  • And of course a glass to throw in the picnic hamper.

When you find a glass you like, stock up on them because they may not be available forever. I broke one of my Schott Zweisels after nine years of heavy use. It was difficult to find a replacement as that glass is not available in New Zealand right now. I did find a single replacement but I'd like to buy more. Hopefully they will return.

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

Invivo and Waimea make real Sauv too

The other day (see Nov 23rd below) I bemoaned low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc and really didn't think I would drink two of the wines. But fortunately both those producers make Sauvignon Blanc the way it is meant to be made. Lively, punchy, captivating from start to finish and delicious fruit flavours too. These are the wines.

Firstly Invivo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011, which is so fantastically expressive with tropical fruit aromas and expansive flavours of pineapple, passionfruit, apple, citrus and a bounty of grass and summer herbs. Refreshing and juicy, the wine is textural and dry and the flavours linger deliciously with the acidity keeping the fruit in check. An exciting wine and in my blind tasting it was easy to see why the judges picked as Champion Sauvignon Blanc and Wine of the Show at the 2011 Marlborough Wine Competition – and there couldn't be any fiercer competition for Sauv than this one in its home territory. Also the top international Sauvignon Blanc at the 2011 Hong Kong Wine & Spirit Competition. Not only great wine, but great presentation too. 12.5% alc. $20. A couple of bucks cheaper than the low alcohol version.

Secondly Waimea Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2011, which has a surprising similar aroma to the estate's 'naturally low alcohol' wine – it smells fantastically herbaceous with abundant tropical fruit but compared to the low alcohol wine this has so much more flavour and intensity and most of all length. Full of tropical fruit, herbs and gooseberry, it makes you go wow! This was a gold medal winner at the 2011 Bragato Wine Awards and the 2011 Air New Zealand Wine Awards – again the judges got it right. 13% alc. $19. Same price as the low alcohol version.

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

Pascal Schiele presents Gustav Lorentz of Alsace

Years ago one of the only ways to travel the world as part of your job was to be a sailor or merchant seaman. Nowadays there are many jobs that take one all over the world but surely one of the most glamorous is that of international fine wine sales. Ask Pascal Schiele, the export manager for the Alsace producer Gustave Lorentz. He travels everywhere, including New Zealand, where he was this week and specifically in Takapuna on Wednesday night as guest presenter at the First Glass weekly Wednesday tasting. For me this was a not-to-be-missed evening of wines from a wine region that fascinates me.

As Pascal explained, it's a unique wine region with a unique history and with people like Pascal's grandmother living in both France and Germany, more than once, without ever moving house. Today, of course, Alsace is in France and has been since the end of World War II. What is also unique about Alsace, is the Alsacienne dialect. Another is that the wines bear the grape name of the label.

There are 15,300 hectares of vineyard in this semi-continental region protected from the north by the Vosges Mountain and separated from Germany by the Rhine River and the vineyards run north south for approximately 150 kilometres, never more than 5-km across at the widest.

There are six main white grapes: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat (pronounced 'moose-car') and Sylvaner. Pinot Noir is the only red, while just three appellations are recognised - they are Alsace AOC, Cremant d'Alsace AOC and Grand Cru d'Alsace AOC.

We started with a Cremant, which is the name for sparkling wines made in the Champagne style that are not from Champagne. This was a Rosé made from 100% Pinot Noir – simply delicious and one of my 'Wines of the Night'. Another was the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Pinot Gris 2005 – heady, rich and unctuous but finishing dry. I was also intrigued with the magnum; not the typical magnum bottle image that comes to mind, but a giant size version of the standard tapered Alsace bottle. Pascal is holding one in the picture. Many thanks to fellow taster, Sakiko, for lending me her camera to take the picture. I couldn't believe I had left my own camera at home.

All of the wines – nine from Gustave Lorentz in total plus two from Macvine, the agents here in New Zealand, are reviewed on my Wednesday Roundup page – click here to read those reviews.

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

Low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc - does it deliver?

Three low alcohol sauvignon blancs arrived on my doorstep.
"30% less calories, 30% less alcohol" said one.
"Naturally low alcohol," stated a gold medal-like sticker on another.
The third was the Doctors', with 'ALC 9.5% VOL' prominent on the front label but nothing about calories or that alcohol is lower than anything else.

I was wondering what the lower calories, lower alcohol meant. Sure, everyone is looking for an excuse to drink. But is Sauvignon Blanc the best variety to produce a wine with lower alcohol? After all, if there is no hocus pocus going on, it is simply the process of yeast eating sugar to produce alcohol. So the obvious way to produce a lower alcohol wine is to stop the fermentation before it is complete. This means the wine would taste sweeter than a fully fermented wine, but picking the grapes before the acidity drops would help to balance that. This is why low alcohol wines work magnificently with the naturally high acid Riesling.

The three Sauvignon Blancs were given the blind taste test by being randomly placed by the winepourer in a lineup of fully fermented Sauvignon Blancs. How did the lower alcohol wines go?

Last year I gave a bit of a rave review to Bella by Invivo 2010 - click here. But I didn't think Bella by Invivo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($22) as good as the 2010 was and that's a reflection of the overall quality of the vintage in Marlborough, I suspect. This wine, with just 9% alcohol by volume, smells like Sauv with citrus, passionfruit and herb aromatics although restrained in comparison to the pungency of some. But the taste is soapy with a bitter lemon confectionary character, the texture is oily and the finish is short. I wanted more. More calories? Maybe. More alcohol? Maybe. More flavour. Most definitely.

Waimea Nelson Naturally Low Alcohol Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19) smells bright, racy and distinctive – like Sauvignon Blanc oughta. It has the typical varietal edginess the juicy tangy flavour but nowhere near as powerful as the full alcohol versions, finishing soft and sweetish and leaving behind a taste that's reminiscent of pink flavoured bubble gum. But we are starting to get there! This has 8% alcohol on the back label.

The Doctors' Alc 9.5% Vol Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($20) is lightly herbaceous on the nose with the oily character of coriander, and is soft and gentle in the palate with hints of pineapple, juicy orange, summer herbs and sweet pea. This was my favourite and makes a nice change from the full-throttle styles. "I would drink this," I wrote. And I think people who want a more gentle style of Sauv will drink this too.

But here's a question. With 30% less alcohol, 30% fewer calories and 30% less taste, shouldn't these wines be 30% cheaper? Martin Carrington of Waimea Estates told me, "No, if anything they should be more expensive!" It seems they involve more work in the vineyard.

Sauvignon Blanc makes such intense and punchy wines, I have to wonder why anyone would want to introduce a diluted version. But if low alcohol was the only option, The Doctors' would be my pick. It's a good choice as they also make a low alcohol Riesling, as stated above, a grape variety that is so much more suited to alcohol restraint.

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

Gemstones in my Blushing Monk Rosé

I'm immensely fascinated by the colour of wine. Not only the hue, the transparency and lustre too. Colour is where I find minerals in my wines.

White wines take on transparent hues that can be as subtle as a yellow diamond or as deep as golden beryl or heliodor. The lustre can be glassy (vitreous) and gem-like (adamantine) or a little oily and pearlescent. rose-colors.jpg (43664 bytes)

Red wines are not usually see-through except on the edges. They have a translucency that lets the light through but with some of the blockbusters unless the glass is held to a light source they seem totally opaque. Rubies and red garnets are the most common gemstones here.

And the Rosés, what a gorgeous array of transparent pinks and reds they are in the glass, from the palest pink fluorite to the deepest red tourmaline.

It's a Rosé I've reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week: Abbey Cellars Blushing Monk Rosé 2011, a blend of Merlot and Malbec from Hawkes Bay.  Check out the review here.

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

Wednesday 'Wine Me Up' Highlights

I love Wednesdays and I hope it stays that way. Chatting with Paul Henry, New Zealand's top broadcaster, about wine on Paul Henry Drive on Radio Live this week, we tasted Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2007 and talked about the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.  It's all been said on my blog the last few days, so check out the podcast - yes it's there this week! Click here.

Then on Wednesday nights it's the tasting at First Glass and of course this week it was gold medal winners from the Air New Zealand Wine Awards - a topical subject right now. A lovely lineup of wines. All the notes are on my Wednesday Roundup, but these wines stood out on the night for me, including a ring-in.

Sherwood Waipara Riesling 2008, the ring-in, is really hitting its stride as it develops bottle-age complexities that are quite mesmerising. Tasted blind, the talc, lime and honeysuckle aroma is initially a little reminiscent of Semillon but of course it's not Semillon, it's Riesling. Moderately dry with a touch of honey to balance the vibrantly fresh acidity, there's a steely shimmer to the backbone yet the finish is honeyed and salivating. It has 11.5% alcohol, 
18 g/l residual sugar, 7.7g/l total acidity and a pH of 3.0.

Mud House South Island Pinot Gris 2010 is drinking just beautifully. With aging on yeast lees it's a textural mouthfilling style with flower musk, spiced pear and a tangy lemon cream biscuit finish. Because it's a double gold medal winner that sells for under $15, I chose this for a function last Tuesday and I'm really glad I did, but I didn't buy enough of it because by the time I went to taste it, it had all gone.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 gets better every time I taste it, and the first time I tasted it, it was striking. A gold medal winner at the NZ International Wine Show and now at the Air NZ Wine Awards, it's smooth, fine textured and sensuous, the red fruit and savoury flavours compounding in the palate and then the much sought-after peacock's tail flare. Sensational drinking already.

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

Wine of the Week: Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2007

After tasting a number of stunning Villa Maria Chardonnays over the past few days, you may be wondering why I have picked Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2007 as my Wine of the Week. It's rather simple actually. This wine is four years old and right now, in the glass, it's a beautiful drink. I said on my blog on November 5th that of all the Air New Zealand gold medal winning Chardonnays that I tasted, if I was choosing one to drink tonight or tomorrow night, the Morton Estate would be the one. So I acquired a bottle and put the theory to the test. It passed emphatically.

Click here to read the rest of this review.

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

Villa Maria Trade Day tasting

I was invited to the Villa Maria winery in Mangere few weeks ago to taste through their entire range of wines. They were being opened for Michael Cooper to assess and rate for the 20th edition of his Buyers' Guide, released to the shops today. Michael tastes the wines in the morning. Other writers are invited to taste in the afternoon. I declined because it was midweek and the thought of a two-hour rush hour crawl home to the opposite side of Auckland was daunting.

"I'll wait for the Trade Day," I said.

The Villa Maria Trade Day is a long time tradition. It's held on a Sunday and partners are invited to attend. There's no weekday traffic to contend with.

About 65 wines were on the tables for tasting, including the two trophy winners from the Air New Zealand Wine awards the night before. Well over half the wines were gold medal winners.

The Villa Maria wines were arranged by variety. Thornbury, Esk Valley and Vidal's were arranged by brand.

We arrived early and tasted at leisure for the first 45 minutes or so, finishing the Chardonnays well before the room became crowded. Highlights were quadruple Wine of Show winner Keltern Chardonnay 2010 and the lovely Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010 from the vineyard around the winery where we were tasting.

Like us, the people in the know made a beeline to the Chardonnay table and being at right angles to the similarly popular Pinot Noirs, it quickly became quite a squeeze.

Next to each tasting stand were wine barrels where food platters, designed to go with one or more of the wine styles on each table, were placed. I have to say I've never seen food disappear so quickly. A platter would be put down and snap, within 30 seconds, all the food had disappeared.

scallops.jpg (79533 bytes)

I've never seen this at a Villa Maria Trade Day before. But the people attending seem to be getting younger. New industry 'tradees' and their partners, I'm sure.

It's no wonder Villa Maria and the family of brands win so many gold medals. There are so many beautifully crafted wines. But what we like and what we don't all comes down to personal preference.

Chardonnays were a standout for me on the day and as well as the remarkable Villa Maria range, the Esk Valley Reserve 2010 was a veritable pleaser with its cashew and cream richness tempered by its fine, lean backbone. Other wines to particularly impress were the Bordeaux-styled blends - I was reminded how good these wines from Hawkes Bay can be.

In addition to the Chardonnays, these were some of my favourites.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Gewurztraminer 2010 – lovely musky rose petal and peach perfume and soft, full mouthcoating flavour. Ticks all the boxes and lingers exotically.

Villa Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2009 – powerful and mouthfilling with a spicy edge and rose petal nuances. Wild fermented in French oak, now with a little age and drinking beautifully.

Esk Valley Verdelho 2011 - bright and fruity, juicy and refreshing with tropical fruit and a salty tang, yet texturally rich and pleasing.

Esk Valley Pinot Gris 2010 - spiced pear, peaches and cream, loads of flavour and zest, perfect proportion of barrel ferment. Beaut summer drinking.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2007 – opulent wine with bottle age adding to the intriguing earthy complexity.

Thornbury Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 – tantalising aromas perfumed with a little 'hot smoke'. Sweet ripe fruit, classical savouriness, juicy, supple and approachable.

Villa Maria Cella Selection Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – one of my faves at the Air NZ Wine Awards tasting, it has loads of fruit and a long juicy finish.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Merlot 2006 – tannins are softening nicely, still a rich wine however, with lovely fruit intensity and balance.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2001 – tasted from a magnum, this smells fantastic and delivers in the palate with bottle age complexity, currant-like fruit, mellow oak and a soft finish.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2007 - sumptuous, creamy, leather, cedary, brambly fruit and a long full finish with balanced nuances of spice. My favourite red of the tasting.

Vidal Reserve Series Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009 - fragrant smelling, lovely smooth tannins, firm, rich and succulent with layers of cassis, cherry and chocolate.

Thanks Sir George and the team for the invitation.

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

Villa Maria makes wine show history

Is Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2010 from Hawkes Bay the best ever from New Zealand? I'm thinking, 'Yes'.

"How do you define New Zealand's best ever Chardonnay?" One way is by wine show success. After entering a show, a gold medal is hoped for. When that is achieved, to be judged best in class comes next. Then comes the goal that only a few producers ever achieve, and that is to be judged the best of the best of the best. It's hard to win a Supreme Champion trophy. Only one wine from the total show entry can be bestowed with that honour. At the 2011 Air New Zealand Wine Awards, that is one wine from an entry of 1489.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2010 was honoured as the best of the best of the best at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards on Saturday night. It achieved the Supreme Champion goal. But what is so amazing about this result is that it is the fourth time it has been bestowed with this honour in the four shows it has been entered into this year.

It won at the Bragato Wine Awards, then at the Hawkes Bay A & P Wine Awards, then at the New Zealand International Wine Show from over 2000 local and international entries, and last night at the Air New Zealand. Gold medal winner, Champion Chardonnay and Supreme Champion at each of these four shows. Anyone who says wine shows are a lottery should eat their words. Four shows, four supreme awards - this is no lottery, this is consistently sound judging of an absolutely excellent wine. Last night's results of Champion Chardonnay, Champion Sustainable Wine and Champion Wine of the Show brings this wine's Trophy tally to eleven.

Congratulations to Sir George Fistonich and his top Chardonnay craftsman, Nick Picone (pictured), looking fabulously fresh this morning at the Villa Maria Trade Day, despite their post-award partying and 3am bedtime.

The Trade Day sees winemakers and other staff from the Villa Maria Group of wineries - Villa Maria, Esk Valley, Vidal's and Thornbury - present a range of their wines to people in the wine trade, including supermarket buyers, fine wine retailers, restaurateurs and media.

Arriving soon after the 10.00am kick-off meant that the tasting room was relatively clear and a bee-line to the Chardonnay table was made. We started with the best.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2010 has a malty expression on the nose and is crammed with delicious mealy malty flavours in the full, rich, creamy palate. With nuances of grapefruit, classy French oak, grilled stonefruit, nougat and a delectably long finish, this wine is stylish, seamless and simply superb. Still available, but only if you are quick. Check out

More ramblings on the Trade Day tomorrow. In the meantime, check out the show results at or

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

25 years of the Air NZ Wine Awards and Wednesday's highlights

It's the 25th anniversary to of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards tonight so it was interesting to see these snippets about the previous Wine of the Show winners in yesterday's First Glass newsletter.

  • Pinot Noir has won 7 times in the past 12 years
  • Chardonnay has won just 4 times, but the last time Chardonnay was selected as champion was in 1995. The winner was Corbans Cottage Block Chardonnay 1994
  • Sauvignon Blanc has take the supreme award just once, in 2005 – the winner was Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2005
  • Sweet wines have won 3 times
  • Syrah has won twice, Trinity Hill Homage 2006 & Church Road Reserve Syrah 2007 - back to back wines in 2007 and 2008.
  • Merlot or Cabernet or blends have won 4 times. Kate Radburnd made 3 of them.
  • Sparkling has won twice. Remember Verde & Amadeus?
  • Riesling has won just once, in 1998. The winner was Stoneleigh Riesling 1996

In addition, Corbans have won 7 times, including 5 successive years from 1994 to 1998. Villa/Vidal/Esk have won 6 times.  Check out this article in Air New Zealand's Kia Ora magazine, for more.

The First Glass tasting on Wednesday night was interesting in that it 12 different varieties from six countries were poured and two of the gold medal winners from the Air NZ Wine Awards were featured.

Lawson's Dry Hills The Pioneer Gewurztraminer 2010 is simply superb. One of my highlights at the Air NZ Wine Awards gold medal tasting last week, it would be my pick for the Gewurztraminer Trophy if it hadn't been in the 'Exhibition' category. Beguilingly perfumed and richly flavoured with lovely mouthfeel and length, there's a lovely sweetness to the classical flavours.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010 is absolutely tantalising. Juicy and quenching when served lightly chilled - as it was on Wednesday night, the fruit is grilled peach, fig and melon and the oak is toasty and smoky. Fabulous mouthfeel, just delicious.

Other highlight of the Wednesday's tasting were Gachot-Monot Cote de Nuits Villages 2009, Cortona Sangiovese 2010 and Thorn-Clarke Quartage 2007. However a huge disappointment was the Tsantali Retsina NV. Retsina might be what Greece is traditionally known for but the wine we were poured was immediately off-putting with its pine disinfectant smell. Such a shame as Greece makes some mighty fine wines now - there is just no demand for them in New Zealand. If I want to go traditional Greek, I'd rather drink ouzo or brandy!

All of the tasting notes are on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here.

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

Ruby and Tawny go head to head on Radio Live

A little port primer was the theme on our Wine Me Up Wednesday slot on Radio Live today -  a comparison of ruby and tawny, the names coming from the colour of the wines. I chose two gold medal winners from the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show, the sole reason being I had the opportunity to taste them when I wrote the tasting notes for The Champions List booklet. They are beautiful examples of these two port styles. taylorsruby.jpg (10395 bytes)

Taylor's Fine Ruby Port comes from one of the most legendary port houses in the Oporto region along the Douro River in Portugal. This company can trace their trading back to 1692. See This is a sweet port style that is bottled after a maximum two years in oak and made to drink immediately. It's a rich, opaque dark ruby red and smells and tastes of dried roses, blackberries, chocolate, liquorice and prunes. Thick textured with a sensual suggestion of tannins, there's a fiery spirit to the full, rounded, finish. A warming, cosy wine, and very nice, but a wine to sip on slowly because with 20% alcohol it doesn't take long for the ruby to share its colourful glow on your cheeks.

db8tawny.jpg (10244 bytes)de Bortoli 8 Year Old Tawny is an Australian fortified made in the traditional port style* but they cannot use 'port' on the label because like Champagne, 'Port' is protected for wines from the demarcated Porto region. This has an average 8 years in old old casks and because of the time in oak it has picked up what's called a 'rancio' character, which could be compared to the smell of oak that's naturally polished from years and years of use. It's a clear, clear toffee colour with a yellow hint to the edges, heady smelling and warm and creamy textured with nuts, raisins, toffee, mellow oak and a long, fulfilling finish. Because of the time in oak, it has lost some of the sweetness of youth, but it is luscious and viscous, nevertheless. Alcohol is 18.5% and it costs about $45. See

One of the good things about these wines is the whole bottle doesn't have to be consumed immediately. The tawny, in particular, is the type of port that when port was popular - the type of port to put the wine into a decanter on the drinks trolley or cabinet. So the corks they use are t-tops. They don't need a corkscrew to get them out, and they can easily be pushed back in. 

The basic recipe for traditional port is simple. Grapes are picked and fermented with yeast, but fermented is stopped when the alcohol reached is about 6 to 8 percent. This means there is still natural sugar and fruit sweetness in what is now called the 'must'. Brandy spirit is added, and in Oporto this is in the ratio of 1:4. It's no wonder then, that port-styled wines are high alcohol, spiritous, heady and sweet. The main styles are bottle-aged (bottled when young) and wood-aged (where they may remain for many years), and vintage and non-vintage. To find out more about Port in all its glorious forms, check out For the Love of Port.

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

Wine of the Week: Chard Farm Riesling

Last Wednesday my regular tasting was cancelled so I asked the wine pourer to put together a tasting, similar to one we would be having, had the regular tasting been on. One of the wines he chose was Riesling, a drier style Riesling with a little age. Lately I seem to have been having a love-hate affair with Riesling but this one pressed all the excitement buttons immediately.

Chard Farm Central Otago Riesling 2009 is a light gold coloured, textural looking wine. The bouquet is perfumed and floral and the taste is intriguing with some fruity exoticness – yet it tastes like it has some age. Beautifully harmonious and rich with a delicate honeysuckle nuance to the pure citrus flavours, and an underlying flintiness coming through, it finishes with a touch of sweetness to indicate to me it's off dry. 12.5%. $24.

Check out the rest of this rambling at my Wine of the Week review.

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

Sages of the NZ Wine Industry reflect on the past

A highlight at the Upper North Island Wine Challenge awards evening last night (see below for trophy winners) was the memories and reflections from three sages of the NZ wine industry, Peter Babich, Mark Nobilo and Tony Soljan. Peter and Tony run their family companies, Babich and Soljans respectively. Mark has retired from Nobilo Wines, now owned by Constellation, but works as a consultant viticulturist, particularly in Northland.

sages.jpg (57904 bytes)
Peter Babich, Mark Nobilo & Tony Soljan

They reflected on how they were born into the industry, how they worked in the vineyard and cellar in their holidays becoming expert bottle washers, bottle fillers and hand labellers. Then of course they joined the family business when they left school. There was no such thing as a University education, which is virtually essential for newcomers into the industry today.

These three are amongst the founders of the modern wine industry and they have lived the changes. From the demand for ports and sherries, the two gallon jar and how hard it was to get people to drink (unbelievable but true), came the evolution of single bottle sales, dry table wines as opposed to the fortifieds, new varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, new wine regions such as Marlborough, the evolution of supermarket wine sales, and new clones and varieties becoming available.

It was fascinating.  

Winner of the White Wine trophy was Omaha Bay Vineyard Pinot Gris 2009. Winner of the Red Wine Trophy was Ti Point One Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010. It was a clean sweep for Matakana!

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

Air NZ Wine Awards ups #NZwine gold medal tally

The medal results from the 2011 Air NZ Wine Awards, judged at the end of October, were announced yesterday and 83 gold medals were awarded from the total entry of 1489 wines. 230 silvers and 386 bronzes were also awarded. Check out or for the full lists.

Villa Maria had an outstanding show, winning 16 gold medals in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Verdelho, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Merlot/Cabernet, Syrah and sweet wines. In fact Villa Maria dominated the Chardonnay class with 7 of the 10 gold medals, including Vidals, going to the parent company. 

Other producers to do well were Pernod Ricard with 4 gold medals, Saint Clair and Mud House with 3, and Charles Wiffen, Gibbston Valley, Lawson's Dry Hills, Matua Valley, Nautilus, Sacred Hill, Spy Valley and Waimea each with 2. Some names, like Coopers Creek, were notably missing. "John forgot to enter the wines," winemaker Simon Nunns said.

Trophies are announced on the 12th November. With Villa Maria doing so well, I imagine a few sore heads at the Villa Maria Trade Day the following day.

I was invited to the media tasting at Air New Zealand's intriguing Hangar 9 in the heart of the Auckland City - the hangar had a premium class aeroplane cabin inside.

All of the gold medal wines were open so there was an opportunity to taste 1 sparkling, 5 Gewurztraminer, 7 Pinot Gris, 8 Riesling, 14 Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Chardonnay, 1 Verdelho, 3 Viognier, 1 Rosé, 17 Pinot Noir, 6 Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignons & blends, 3 Syrah, 1 Grenache and 6 sweet wines.  It was quite daunting but I didn't taste every wine and while I didn't *have* to write notes, it was hard to resist not writing some vibes.

I think the judges did a good job although I couldn't get overly enamoured with Pinot Gris, perhaps because the Gewurztraminers and Rieslings on either side were so exciting.  

Gewurztraminer: Gosh, I loved them all. But will Lawson Dry Hills The Pioneer 2010 be the trophy winner? Oh hang on, it was entered in the 'Exhibition Class', so it can't be. If the judges go for a sweeter, more luscious style, it could be Alan McCorkindale 2009 from the Waipara Valley.

Riesling: A standout class for my palate and I particularly liked the wines with a little age - Hunters 2008 and John Forrest Collection 2007. But as they are both 'Exhibition' wines, neither will win the Riesling Trophy, however. 

Sauvignon Blanc: Jules Taylor 2011 was the first I tasted and wow - passionfruit simply abounds in this mouthwatering wine. Exciting to see three Nelson wines. The Te Mania 2011 was my favourite of this trio.

Chardonnay: The highly awarded trophy magnet, Villa Maria Keltern 2010, looked exciting in the lineup but if I was choosing a wine to drink tonight or tomorrow night, it would be the Morton Estate Black Label 2007.

Verdelho: Just one, the Villa Maria 2010 from the Ihumatao Vineyard in Mangere. Loads of flavour and a fresh fruity vibrancy make this a very exciting wine.

Viognier: I liked all three but Moana Hawke's Bay Viognier 2010 tipped the scales for me. However the trophy will go to either Villa Maria or Waimea.

Pinot Noir: A massive class in the context of the tasting, but four Central Otago wines stood out. Judge Rock Central Otago PN 2010 is smooth textured with terrific concentration - powerful in a nice kind of way. Rockburn Central Otago PN 2010 is a sensual wine with a fine texture and an expansive finish. Gibbston Valley School House Bendigo PN 2010 seduced with its aroma and smooth, rich, concentrated flavours. And Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir PN 2009 is simply outstanding with its smooth fine texture, savoury, earthy, wild thyme flavours and vibrant fruit. The Valli was tasted as a food match to Geoff Scott's hare dish that he cooked in front of us.

Syrah: I struggle with the dry tannins of this variety, but Bilancia Hawkes Bay Syrah 2010 seemed the most textural and complete of the three.

Merlot and Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Blends: It was Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet 2009 that was a standout across these wines, possibly because it was the most harmonious with brambly fruit, spicy oak and a lingering hint of chocolate and despite easy tannins it had concentration and layers.

Sweet Wines: My top picks were Trinity Hill Noble Viognier 2009 - shy on the nose but rich and viscous with a sumptuous mouthfeel and utterly delectable taste, and Charles Wiffen Late Harvest Riesling 2009 - seamless nectar and orange toffee brulee and a delicious finish that lasts for ages.

Of the 83 gold medals awarded, 56 were virgin golds. They all appear on my gold medal tally list for 2011-2012 where the number of unique golds awarded this 'show season'   has increased to 358. 

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

Talking about wine and roses on Radio Live

I love this time of year. The roses are blooming and the garden smells heady with scent, not only the roses – the jasmine, the wisteria, the citrus blossoms and the aromatic summer herbs. But it is a particular rose I like best.cecilebrunner.jpg (37788 bytes)

Cecile Brunner, the sweetheart rose, is planted along the roadside fence next to the front gate and when I shut the gate on my way out I grab a blossom to stick behind my ear or to place on the dashboard. The heavenly scent trigger memories and whisks me to treasured places but most of all reminds me of one of favourite wine styles. Cecile Brunner is my Gewurztraminer rose.

Paul Henry at Radio Live, and listeners, learnt about my passionate relationship with Cecile Brunner and Gewurztraminer when I took a spray of roses and two Gewurztraminers (chilled for 4 hours) from Coopers Creek into the studio for this week's Wine Me Up Wednesday chat. We also talked about vintage variation because we had two vintages, the 2009 and the 2010, to taste.

Coopers Creek Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2009 didn't have the intense aromatic qualities I pursue, but the taste was smooth, rounded, rich and full. Paul described this silver medal winner as sweet, but to me it was the low acidity and moderately high alcohol, rather than residual sugar, that gave this impression. Full of flavour and very easy to like – it was Paul's favourite.

Coopers Creek Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2010, in contrast, smelt like an old fashioned rose garden and the flavours were more exotically spicy with rose oil nuances making the texture seamless. However the perception of this gold medal winner was that it was drier.

With the same vineyard, same viticulturist, same winemaker and same price (~$17) for both wines, it is the weather during the growing season that makes the difference. And that's why wines taste different from one vintage year to the next.

Gewurztraminer is a perfect garden party wine but I love it with food too. But such a powerful wine needs powerful food to match. My favourites are duck liver pate, spiced duck in an orange-scented sauce, French onion soup with cumin seeds and, unquestionably, some aspects of Thai food. It's my no-brainer wine to take to Thai restaurants, and we only go to those that allow BYO.

Gewurztraminer has one of the most powerful, heady and memorable aromas of any white wine so it can polarise drinkers. If you like roses, lychees, Turkish delight, tropical fruit, sweet oranges and coriander, then soft acid, full-bodied and textural Gewurztraminer is for you!

In 2011 Gewurztraminer is the 9th most popular grape grown in New Zealand, but accounts for less than 1% of the country's plantings. It is grown in Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury and Central Otago.

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

A 21-year-old Chenin Blanc

When Penelope Naish of Black Estate in the Waipara Valley tweeted to say they were nearing the end of planting 20500 new vines, someone asked what the vines were. Well, it was a surprise to read that as well as the ubiquitous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they were toying with Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc as well. That led to a tweet-up about Chenin Blanc, about how well it grows in New Zealand but how few winegrowers pursue this classic grape variety that is responsible for the great cellar-worthy wines of the Loire, particularly Vouvray.

Millton in Gisborne is, of course, the best known Kiwi producer, both locally and internationally, but that hasn't always been the case. My favourite for many years was Collards Hawkes Bay Dry Chenin Blanc. It was a 'must buy' every year. But Collards was sold, their former growers in Hawkes Bay pulled the vines out and that Chenin Blanc story ended. Except for bottles under houses and other places where bottles are cellared.

We found a bottle of Collards Dry Chenin Blanc 1990 and decided what a good time to open it.

The cork was soaked through and came out in two pieces, but thankfully there were no corked or oxidative aromas and flavours.

In the glass the colour is decidedly orange-gold but clear and bright with a gem-like lustre. It smells like aged Chenin – like a Vouvray – scents of honey-coated baked apple and poached pear! It tastes sweet and rich, yet dry and nutty, with dried pineapple and mango coming to mind and then a lingering honeyed apple and date richness, a nuance of clove and the unctuousness of dried apricot at the end. Mouthfilling and long with unbelievable length. Lovely to sip and savour. Quite amazing really!

I'm looking forward to Black Estate's Chenin Blanc but that will be some years away. Meanwhile other newcomers to the variety are Sea Level in Nelson and Bishop's Head in Waipara, but I haven't tried either. As well there is Esk Valley and Farmgate from Hawkes Bay, Margrain from Martinborough and Forrest Estate from Marlborough. These are producers that are serious about Chenin Blanc. Just 47 hectares of the grape are grown in New Zealand. They are rare, sometimes 'cellar door only', but for lovers of ageworthy, mouthfilling wines, it's worth seeking them out, hiding them away then enjoying them with age after several years.

PS. Notes written last night but it is still holding out this evening as I type this post. Unbelievable!

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

A 33-year-old vintage Port

I've changed the rules for my Wine of the Week because the most amazing wine that passed my lips this week was not Kiwi, it was Portuguese and even though I bought the wine, it was one I never expected to taste. I gave the wine to my nephew, a birth year wine on the occasion of his 21st. His graduation came and went. So did his engagement and wedding. Then his 30th birthday passed while he and his wife were on their OE. But finally the chance came to open the Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas 1978 Vintage Port. All is revealed at this Wine of the Week link.

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