Sue's Avatar


Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings

wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand home           Current Blog              Blog archives

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.

If you want to make a comment, drop an email to and, if appropriate, I'll post it in the appropriate place.

Click here for this site's RSS feed.

Archive: January 2012
Jan 31st: Keeping cold on a hot summer's day
Jan 31st: Wine of the Week: Rippon Central Otago Gamay Noir 2011
Jan 23rd: Wine of the Week: Heron's Flight Unplugged Dolcetto 2011
Jan 23rd: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 10 - First Estate but not the last
Jan 20th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 9 - The white sands of Karikari
Jan 18th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 8 - The road to Russell and Omata Estate
Jan 12th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 7 - Marsden's Landing
Jan 10th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 6 - Top Gun Marsden Estate
Jan 9th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 5 - Chambo at Ake Ake
Jan 5th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 4 - Fat Pigs and Labradors
Jan 4th: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 3 - Pukekos everywhere
Jan 3rd: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 2 - TBO at Cottle Hill
Jan 2nd: Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 1 - A collection of quirky labels
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 31st 2012

Keeping cold on a hot summer's day

My kitchen bench has been a bit like a mad scientist's lab this past week. Glasses of wine lined up along the counter, bottles of wine in the fridge, the freezer and in the sink, a trusty thermometer and a minute timer. I've been conducting experiments on how long it takes to chill down a bottle of wine, looking for the fastest method because it's been hot and humid in Auckland as we hit midsummer and the whites and the rosés simply have to be cold. But what do you do if you forget to put a bottle in the refrigerator an hour or so before you want a drink?

Experiments included chilling wine in the refrigerator and the freezer, chilling the bottle in icy water, and using a ChillBall in a glass of wine to reduce the temperature quickly. The ChillBall wasn't designed for chilling down wine but it does the job – more on that later.

In the refrigerator the wine dropped temperature at about one degree every ten minutes, but it varied between a fatter chardonnay / sauvignon blanc-type bottle and a narrow taller pinot gris / riesling / rosé-type bottle. To chill my bottle of Rosé from my 'room temperature' of 17° C to a palatable drinking temperature of 12° C, took 50 minutes.

It takes half as long in the freezer. I used to think that wrapping a wet tea towel around the bottle would speed up the process but it doesn't chill the wine any faster than the refrigerator for the first 15 minutes or so. This is because the tea towel has to chill before it transfers that chill to the bottle. Forget the tea towel because a bottle cools much quicker when wedged between a packet of frozen beans and a packet of frozen peas.

However the real trick to cooling down wine fast is simply ice and water. Hopefully you have filled ice trays in your freezer, otherwise pick up some ice on your way home from work.

We have this neat Ice Bag that was a gift, but any tall narrow container that you can stand up the bottle in, otherwise resort to the kitchen sink.

Put the bottle in the Ice Bag (or container). Surround the bottle with ice. Pour in cold water. This reduces the temperature at the rate of 1° C a minute – so to bring the temperature down from 17° C to 10° C takes only 7 minutes. But to speed up this process, add salt to the water and stir to dissolve before adding the water to the ice bag or bucket. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, so the ice melts quicker, the water gets colder quicker and the wine chills more quickly. Our experiments were carried out with the bottle submerged up to its neck.

And so to the ChillBall. Designed to keep cold drinks cold once poured, the frozen ball is inserted into its holder, which is then clipped onto the edge of the glass. This keeps it in place when you drink. And unlike real ice it doesn't melt and dilute the wine. A really smart idea. I love it. So now my freezer trays are kept full, my chill balls are kept frozen and with the salted ice method, I'll have a cold drink in my glass in five minutes.

To find out where to buy ChillBall in New Zealand, go to There you will find stockists from Warkworth in the north to Invercargill in the south. Expect to pay $30 to $35 for a set of six. You can also find stockists for the Ice Bag too. They cost around $18 and definitely should be under $20 for the basic version, which comes in a cool range of colours, but there are more upmarket models like the VIP with faux leather handles, and a pocket model with a drip stop included. And while you're are on the Bright Idea website, look at the other wine accessories they sell, like the Wine Skin for travelling and the Wine Away cleaner for wine spills. I haven't tried this out yet - and hopefully I won't have to!

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 31st 2012

Wine of the Week: Rippon Central Otago Gamay Noir 2011

It's known that some producers do not like screwcaps, for whatever reason, that is their prerogative. And when they also want to shy away from natural cork, there are alternatives. Like the Diam, for example. And that was the closure in the Rippon Lake Wanaka Central Otago Gamay Noir 2011. But in this instance the Diam tried hard to resist the wine pourer's efforts to extract it. His usually quiet nature and calm demeanour turned into grunts and frustrated mutters of almost unrepeatable words before the climatic orgasmic 'pop' was followed by a relief-filled sigh. As he poured the wine the glass filled with the inky black purple liquid edged with transparent purple red ....
Read more on my Wine of the Week

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 23rd 2012

Wine of the Week: Heron's Flight Unplugged Dolcetto 2011

Did you make any wine goals this New Year? I usually do and top of the list is to try something new. I've already tried this week's Wine of the Week but for most of my readers, and many others also, Dolcetto and especially Dolcetto from New Zealand will definitely be new.

Dolcetto is an Italian and its home is Piedmont. The name means 'little sweet little one' in reference to the grape size - tiny sweet grapes clustered together in big heavy bunches. Pronounce the 'c' in Dolcetto as if it were a 'ch' and stress the second syllable. Altogether now - dol-CHET-to. Say it slowly and let it roll off your tongue.

The wine I've picked as this week's Wine of the Week is a little like the name. Savour it slowly and let it roll around your tongue.
Read more on my Wine of the Week.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 23rd 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 10 - First Estate but not the last

My recent tour of the vineyards of Northland, New Zealand has come to an end. But it won't be the last time I visit this gem of a wine region that doesn't usually feature on the itineraries of international wine media. Production is small so they don't export to the international markets that are so important to the mega sauvignon blanc and pinot noir producers from further south. Instead they sell to the locals and to the tourists that flock to Northland for the glorious scenery, the pristine beaches, the islands, the lighthouses and the history.

For anyone interested in New Zealand's short history, Northland is a must visit. Not only the vineyards, but also the historic places, particularly the Treaty House at Waitangi, near Paihia, because this is where New Zealand became a nation. It's also the place where James Busby grew grapes for New Zealand's first wine. You've read in Part 1 of this series that Samuel Marsden planted the country's first grapevines. Marsden also introduced many fruit trees and a pear tree planted in 1819 still survives in Kerikeri. But it was James Busby that was the country's first winemaker. I've written extensively before on the founder of the New Zealand Wine Industry – click here to read my 'toast' to this often forgotten man

Now a wine has been made to honour Busby and New Zealand's first wine producing vineyard at Waitangi.

Waitangi Cellars First Estate Limited Edition Pinot Gris 2010 was launched last October at the treaty grounds. I wasn't there but I did have an opportunity to taste the wine on my Northland trip. A full, rich, just off dry style, full of the typical pear and tropical fruit flavours you get with Pinot Gris from the north. A tasty wine skilfully made at Marsden Estate by Rod MacIvor.

The Treaty House is the house that Busby built and it is free for all New Zealanders to visit and of course while you are in Paihia, a boat trip around the Bay of Islands should be mandatory. You'll see the Treaty House from the water, pass the Black Rocks that give their name to Marsden Estate's delicious chardonnay and you'll probably nose into Oihi Bay for a close up view of the Marsden Cross. And there are often the dolphins too, the beautiful creatures that surf and duck and dive on the bow waves - their cavorting cannot fail to bring a smile to everyone who sees them.

Sadly I didn't get to all the wineries on my two Northland visits in September and December 2011. The latter trip to the Far North coincided with a trip to Cape Reinga – the end of State Highway 1, 420-km north from the top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. But we drove there from Coopers Beach in some of the heaviest rain I have driven in. The trip was slow and flooding on the road on the return journey created delays. So my hoped for visits to Kaitaia wineries, Okahu Estate and Waitapu Estate, didn't happen. However I did espy a new vineyard development near Mt Camel on the road to Cape Reinga.

One day I'll summarise the wineries and pinpoint their positions onto a map.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 20th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 9 - The white sands of Karikari

This was originally written for the Travels of Wine website - the words and copyright are mine. The article has not been published on before. It's been slightly modified with eking of words and wines updated to reflect more current availability.

White Sands of Karikari Beach. Photo Copyright to Sue Courtney.The white sands of Karikari Beach, on the northern side of Karikari Peninsula in New Zealand's Far North, seem pristine, untouched. Walking barefoot along the beach I hear the sand squeak beneath my weight and feel the dry fine grains of quartz run between my toes. Way above the high tide mark are sporadic clusters of scallop, tuatua and other exotic shells taken to their resting place by a recent storm to die a lonely death.  On the dunes, tussock grass is trying to take hold. It’s so quiet and tranquil, it’s easy to forget about life on the main street. It is peace at its finest.

Suddenly I sense movement close by. Where? It takes a moment to spot the well-camouflaged breeding bird hackling its feathers in alarm at my approach. This stretch of beach, backed by sand dunes and wetlands, is over five and a half miles long and with little public road access it is a sanctuary for the NZ dotterel, bittern, variable oyster-catcher, fernbird and marsh crake. I take a wide berth so not to disturb the bird, further.

Taking time out to visit Karikari Beach is always a highlight of my visits to Karikari Estate Vineyard, part of Carrington Resort and the northern-most vineyard in New Zealand.

Carrington Resort was the dream of American Paul Kelly who developed part of the 3000-acre property into lodge and villa accommodation overlooking the private golf course and wetlands to the sand dunes and the South Pacific Ocean beyond. Now under the management of Heritage Hotels, the property also incorporates a working Angus beef farm and the 100-acre vineyard while recreation activities, in addition to golf, include diving, fishing, skeet shooting, horse riding, kayaking and of course, wine tasting.

Resort guests scoot around the property on golf buggies with an under-road tunnel providing safe access to the winery, café and wine sales facility on the other side of Matai Bay Road. Wine tourists come by car.

Wine tasting at Karikari Estate is a casual, do-it yourself affair once you have your platter of five wines ($12) and accompanying notes. Wine can also be bought by the glass or the bottle and there’s a blackboard menu that display the day’s menu, which includes a ‘Karikari Platter’ of tempting, tasty treats.

On a hot, fine day it is just idyllic sitting at one of the outdoor tables on the lawn, tasting the wines and drinking in the view. Mt Camel dominates the skyline to the west and on a clear day you can even see Cape Maria Van Diemen, the most northern point of the North Island, in the distance.

At my tasting in 2008 I was particularly impressed the Karikari Estate Tannat 2006 - the first 100% Tannat wine I have tasted from New Zealand. This deep cerise coloured wine is big, rich and succulent with aromas of savoury vanillin oak, old spice, musk and pencils shavings. It has amazing plush red fruits in the palate with tobacco, spice, cigar and grippy tannins that balance the creamy structure. It’s what I call ‘OMG’ stuff.

More recently tasted is Karikari Hellhole 2008. It takes its name from the 1830-1840 slang name for Russell (Kororareka) when it was known as the 'Hellhole of the Pacific' (no kidding). A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Tannat, Merlot and Pinotage, reflecting the red grapes grown on the property, this deep coloured, savoury, funky red has its earthy leathery characters tempered by sweet creamy American oak and concentrated red and black fruits. The tannins are smooth and velvety and the overall impression is of a juicy wine with a sweet/savoury disposition.

My favourite Karikari Estate Red is the Karikari Estate Northland Pinotage 2008 - a Wine of the Week in April 2011. Rich dense ruby; smoky, savoury, meaty and gamey; silky textured and plush; fabulous fruit profile; polished oak; long, sensual, supple and gently spicy aftertaste . Fantastic cellaring potential. Top rated wine. 

Kerikeri to Karikari Route Map by Sue Courtney.Karikari Peninsula is just over an hour’s drive from Kerikeri. Check out the map below for driving directions.

Travelling north from Kerikeri (A) you can take a scenic detour off State Highway 10 via Matauri and Tauranga Bays (B). That will take at least another hour. Nearing Mangonui Harbour and the idyllic Coopers Beach (C), you will pass Paewhenua Island, an actual island that State Highway 10 discreetly passes over, with a bridge on one side and a causeway on another. It is only the sign that lets you know that you are at this location. This is one of the newer Northland vineyard developments with lifestyle-sized properties offering viticultural opportunities for prospective buyers.

In January 2012 the summer opening hours for Karikari Estate Vineyard and Winery are 11am to 4pm for wine tastings and 11.30 to 3pm for lunch. Check out before you visit, in case the hours change.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 18th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 8 - The Road to Russell and Omata Estate

On the first day of my carefully made plans for my Northland trip I missed a visit to a vineyard, then took the wrong road to the next and arrived late. But it wasn't my entire fault. Let me explain.

First of all I was trying to combine two interests into one with a social outing of the MG Car Club to Mangawhai including Lochiel Estate. The vineyards at Mangawhai are the southern-most on the Northland wine trail and therefore the closest to Auckland. A trip around the coast, via Matakana and Leigh, is scenic with some amazing lookout points on the way.

Anyway, it was pouring with rain as the stalwart MG enthusiasts gathered under the shelter of a big undercover car park of a large hardware store in Albany. Then, just as the drivers' briefing was about to start, I received a panicky call from Lochiel Estate owner, Gary Cameron. He explained that with the deluge they had also been a party to, the road had been underwater and was a mud bath. Good for ducks, but not for low slung sports cars. Our visit was cancelled.

We had other things to do in Mangawhai, like lunch, so I suggested cars drive along the sealed part of King Road anyway, past Estuary Vineyard to the top of the hill, for expansive views over Lochiel Estate, Millar Vineyard and the cluster of olive groves in the valley below (see A on the map). The unsealed road didn't look too bad, but we weren't going to test it out.

After lunch I left my husband to find his own way home and headed north to my stop, Omata Estate near Russell. I took the coastal road, via Langs Beach and Waipu Cove onto Whangarei past the picturesque Longview Estate. I then had the choice of driving up the main highway to Opua and catching the ferry to Russell, or taking another coastal route. Stupidly, as it turned out, I decided on the latter

The coastal route to Russell, via the aptly named Russell Road, leaves State Highway One at Whakapara (B on the map). It looked okay on the map and not much further than the main highway, but I soon found out that for the 39-kilometres from State Highway One to the Rawhiti Road intersection, there was no straight longer than about 200 metres. It was one of the windiest roads I have driven. I was just pleased I didn't get stuck behind a camper van. Before leaving home Google Maps told me I could continue along the sealed Russell Road at the Rawhiti Road intersection, but from here, for heaven knows how long, the road was gravel and on the traditional road atlas I was now using the road was a series of squiggles. I could see it was also hilly, so I decided to follow the sealed route around the coast. This added an extra 10 kilometres on to the trip to Omata, which turned out to be 70 kilometres in total after leaving State Highway One. It was slow driving and nowhere could I find cell phone reception to say I was running late. When I finally did, at some small settlement, the number I had been given was wrong.

The coastal route is beautiful but you need to take it leisurely, stop at the little bays and take photos of the untouched beauty. Hardly anyone lives out here, you know. The main route is 25 kilometres shorter and although there's a ferry, they run almost on demand. I'll know better next time.

Finally arriving at Omata Estate (C on the map), which is about a kilometre down a long drive off Aucks Road (fortunately there are wine barrels at the top of the driveway to give a tired driver a clue), my host, Ben Norman, greeted me. Ben is the brother of Cindy MacIvor, so winemaker Rod MacIvor's brother-in-law. And not surprisingly, Rod makes the wines. But wine tasting wasn't immediately on the agenda. Surveying the vineyard was.

Being in the Bay of Islands this vineyard, like so many coastal vineyards, has jaw-dropping views. The vista looks northwest towards Paihia and Motuarahi Island in the middle of the picturesque inlet and bay.

The property has changed hands since I last visited here. Colin Cashmore became the new owner in 2008 and has made the former boutique accommodation on the waterfront his home. He's also made decisions about the vineyard and most of the original plantings have now been replaced with Pinot Gris, Flora, 3 or 4 different clones of Syrah and Merlot. Only some of the original Merlot and a small plot of the original Syrah remains. The first crop from the new vines is expected in 2013.

The other thing that Cashmore has done is changed the label. The label is no longer kitzy – the wines look smart on the table.

The cellar door will open daily throughout the summer until the end of May. Tastings are free, you can purchase a platter to enjoy in the vineyard setting and of course there are sales of wine.  Here's what I tried -

Omata Estate Northland Summer Merlot 2011 is a Rosé. It's an inviting salmon pink colour, the aroma is savoury with typical leathery nuances inherent to Merlot, and tastes like fresh grapes with a berry richness coming through. A rich and moderately sweet wine, even with chilling. 12.5% alc. $25.

Omata Estate Northland Chardonnay 2009 is a little tight and reductive to start but swirling the wine in the glass helps to open it up. This is a wine that could be decanted to let the tropical fruit and cherimoya flavours come through from the outset and the lingering aftertaste is juicy and pleasing. 13.5% alc. $28.

Omata Estate Northland Merlot 2009 is blackcurrant red coloured and appears more translucent than opaque. It's perfumed and floral with a delicate nuance of creamy vanillin oak, nuts, cherries and redcurrants. A medium bodied style and lovely summer drinking for lunchtime red or later in the evening. 12.5% alc. $31.

Omata Northland Syrah 2009 is the star from this vineyard. It's a deep inky black red with a rich spicy aroma and intense fruit flavours of plums, blackberries and cherries with creamy oak and a dark savoury nuggetty backbone. An opulent full-bodied red with a savoury, gamey veneer. 13.5% alc. $39.

Omata Estate is at 252 Aucks Road, Russell, Northland, New Zealand. Check for current opening hours and more from Catch the ferry from and back to Opua. It's the quickest way.

Actually just a nice word about the ferry crew here. I arrived at the ferry landing on the Russell side of the bay after my visit to Omata Estate, just after 6 pm, to see the ferry pulling out of the wharf as I drove down the hill. I stopped at the end of the road and turned my ignition off for a big wait, but to my surprise, the ferry backed in again to pick me up.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 12th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 7 - Marsden's Landing

It's not hard not get ensconced in history when you travel to Northland and the Bay of Islands. It's where the early settlers landed. It's where the first white baby was born in New Zealand. It's where the missionaries began to convert the so-called heathens and it's where New Zealand became a nation. And there is one man from this era whose name lives on everywhere. Samuel Marsden. He gives his name to Marsden Point near Whangarei, Marsden Cove on the Whangarei Harbour, Marsden Estate Winery in Kerikeri, Samuel Marsden College in Wellington and Samuel Marsden Memorial Church in Matauri Bay. There's a Marsden Fund, a Marsden Medal and a Marsden Scholarship.

But it is at Oihi Bay, a little cove in Purerua Peninsula's Rangihoua Bay, a good 45-minute drive north east from Kerikeri township, at the Marsden Cross Historic Reserve, where it all began. This is where Marsden landed in New Zealand on December 23, 1814, on the first on his five visits here. On Christmas Day, 1814, he held the country's first Christian service at this bay. This is this site of New Zealand's first European settlement and it is where the Marsden Cross now stands.

If you ever go on one of the tourist boat cruises around the Bay of Islands, you most likely will nose into the bay. But you can drive up the Peninsula and then walk there across Department of Conservation land.

The bay to the west of Rangihoua Bay is Wairoa Bay, and a visit here is by invitation only because it is part of the Mountain Landing development. Named after 19th century land owner Walter Mountain, not only are there luxury properties, there's a vineyard too. Chardonnay and Syrah are grown, 2010 was the first vintage, and just 120 cases of each variety were made.

I've come to Mountain Landing with Rod MacIvor of Marsden Estate, who of course is the winemaker, and Glenda Neil. We're in Rod's dusty 4WD, which is good because after we leave the seal there's about 11 kilometres of lumpy gravel to the Mountain Landing gates.

First stop is the vineyard, sloping to the north and from the top a delightful vista over the bay. Mark Nobilo is the viticulturist and it's one of several promising grape growing sites on the estate. "If you set the vineyard up properly from the outset, you will get good wine," enthuses Rod.

It's a windy day so we continue on the shelter of the 'Boat House', a communal facility on the water's edge at Wairoa Bay for residents of the estate. It's here we meet executives Peter Cooper (pictured below) and Peter Jones and taste the wines. The wines are branded 'The Landing' in reference to Marsden's 1814 landing.

The Landing Chardonnay 2010 is a surprisingly golden colour. It tantalises with its smoky French oak aroma and fulfils the promise with its rich, mouthfilling palate of stonefruit, honeyed oak, nougat and fig. A harmonious wine with a lovely dry, savoury finish, it was a deserving silver medal winner in the Upper North Island Challenge 2011.

The Landing Syrah 2010 is a vivid blackberry colour with an aroma of smoky oak and subtle floral notes. It's a peppery, muscular, robust tasting wine with a black forest chocolate note, a leathery undercurrent, nuances of dried woody herbs and a mouth enveloping finish. This was the best Syrah I tasted on this Northland trip but while it shows great promise, it needs more time to develop in the bottle.

With such a tiny quantity made, these wines are not on general sale, but if you can somehow acquire a bottle, you won't be disappointed.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 10th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 6 - Top Gun Marsden Estate

"Everyone who is making Chambourcin in Northland is selling it," says Rod MacIvor, owner/winemaker at top Bay of Islands winery, Marsden Estate. He echoes John Clarke's comments from our Ake Ake visit.

It's September 2011 and I'm at the winery with my travelling partner, Glenda Neil, to taste wines and have lunch. We chat with Rod in the restaurant and he has bought out a magnificent collection of wines for us to try. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are the only white wine grapes grown on the property and we taste two vintages of the iconic Black Rocks Chardonnay as well as the newly released Pinot Gris. There are a variety of reds grown here and as well as Chambourcin, we taste Merlot, Pinotage and Syrah.

Rod tells us that he and wife Cindy planted their vineyard in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri, in 1993. They had their first harvest in 1995 and in 1997 they opened their restaurant and their winery. The wines have been made there, at Wiroa Road, ever since. Plus Rod makes wine for many of the small growers nearby.

Rod recalls that not long after opening that winewriter Keith Stewart wrote in his NZ Listener column, he would give them 6 months. How long ago was that? 14 or 15 years!

"It takes 10 years to understand your vineyard," says Rod, explaining how you learn from your mistakes and the inconsistent weather patterns their part of the country is subject to.

Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay is Northland's most awarded wine. It's a gold medal magnet at wine competitions and multiple gilded gongs have been awarded to the 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 vintages. As well the Winemaker's Daughter Merlot 2010 and Bay of Island Pinot Gris 2010 collected gold medals in 2011.

With the vineyard ticking along nicely now and Rod happy with what he is growing, he's now engrossed in a new project, a historic vine nursery that he and viticulturist Mark Nobilo are establishing on a corner of the Marsden Estate vineyard. Since 2009 they have been collecting cuttings from wild vines growing around Northland. While they don't know what many of the vines are yet, they hope they will be identifying them when the vines produce their first fruit this year. It will give further insight into the grape varieties grown by New Zealand's earliest wine pioneers.

Tasting Highlights

Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2009 - Golden topaz in hue. Lovely citrussy nose with mealy nuances coming through. Spicy, creamy and savoury, mouthfilling and compounding in richness and fleshiness. Hints of stonefruit, a touch of melon. Lovely balance and length. Oak is integrating nicely. $35.

Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2010 - Slightly lighter in colour. Silky with beautifully balanced French oak. Lovely mealy flavours with citrus, tropical fruit and a crisp, lingering finish. Salivating. Yum. Seems cleaner, crisper, more rounded than the 2009 but both excellent wines. $35.

Marsden Estate Pinot Gris 2010 - A full, rich, textural wine with a distinctive pear and quince bouquet and a touch of viscosity to the classic pear, quince and spiced apple flavours. Seems quite dry although about 7 g/l rs. Nice fleshiness with just a touch of sweetness as it lingers. $27.

Marsden Estate The Winemaker's Daughter Merlot 2010 - Deep ruby / crimson. Smoky, spicy, plummy, sweet leather. Quite dry on entry to palate yet with bright spices and fruit vibrancy. Shows excellent potential and while firm, it has an opulent softness to it with a savoury undercurrent and a hint of bacon.

Marsden Estate Reserve Pinotage 2010 - Deep and dark, ripe, juicy and delicious with wild blackberry fruit, cherry, not really gamey at first but it does come through on the aftertaste. Dark chocolate undercurrent, spicy with a well-balanced savoury finish and black tea. Velvety tannins, soft aftertaste, fine finish.  $24.

Marsden Estate Vigot Syrah 2010 - Rich dark red, smooth, creamy and voluptuous. Oak a little forward – oak tannins, peppery spice, classic Syrah. A very ripe vintage. Bottled 2 months, matured in American and Hungarian oak. $35.

Marsden Estate Chambourcin 2010 - Brilliant vivid black red colour. Smoky, savoury, meaty, floral, fruity aromas. A rich, fruity tasting wine with a fine tannin structure that gives it a stylish edge and makes it seem almost Bordeaux-like. Matured in French and fine-grained American oak, it's creamy textured with chocolate, tobacco and cassis and very very nice.  $24.

You'll find Marsden Estate at 56 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri - the first exit off the big Kerikeri roundabout on State Highway 10 when you are heading north. Make a booking for lunch but try the wines first then you'll know what to choose to accompany your meal.

They open daily from 10 am until 5 pm during the spring, summer and autumn and 10 am to 4pm in the winter. Check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 9th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 5 - Chambo at Ake Ake

"Chambourcin is our best selling wine," says John Clarke, owner / winemaker at Northland's Ake Ake Vineyard.


I'm not surprised when I taste the richly coloured and soft, ripe, juicy tasting Ake Ake Chambourcin 2010 ($25). It has 'luscious drinkability', for want of a better description. The succulent plum and cherry fruit soaks up the creamy oak veneer and there's a subtle and well balanced savouriness. However Chambourcin, or 'Chambo' as the locals like to call it, can be a bit of a chameleon of a wine. In a light year it makes a light coloured wine and has similar earthy savoury traits to a light Pinot Noir. In a hot year, like 2010, the wines ooze richness and succulence. They are more akin to Merlot Malbec blends.

I love that Chambourcin also features in Ake Ake's take on a Rosé, the Vin du Soleil 2011 ($18). A blend of 60% Chambourcin and 40% Tempranillo, this light salmon pink coloured wine is dry and aromatic with a spicy richness, fruit flavours like early season plums and a fresh, zesty and salivating finish.

There's also a smooth, spicy, moderately heady, ruby port-style fortified ($25) made from Chambourcin and a touch of Syrah.

Chambourcin is taking hold in Northland and most Kerikeri growers are playing around with the grape because it's perfect for the humid and often wet conditions during the grape growing season in northern New Zealand. Chambourcin has built in resistors to powdery mildew and other wet weather diseases, so it's ideal for those who want to keep away from chemical sprays. It's also great for backyard hobby winegrowers as it's resistant to bugs like phylloxera without being grafted onto rootstocks. Yet, 'wine snobs' will probably turn their noses up at the variety because it isn't a 'classic' wine grape. Don't be a wine snob. Be true to your palate and let your tastebuds guide you.

A visit to Ake Ake is your chance. There's no charge to taste the wines if you are dining or buying, but a $5 charge per person will apply if you are just going to taste. That's fair enough, I reckon.

This was my fourth visit to Ake Ake. I enjoy visiting Ake Ake whenever I get the chance and love talking to John because he is so passionate about his vineyard and making his wines. And his passion shows because the because the quality is improving all the time.

In September I reviewed Ake Ake Merlot 2009 ($20) as a Wine of the Week. A juicy Merlot and terrific with food. I had it withe three meals - lamb shanks, spaghetti bolognese and grilled steak.

I really like the 11% alcohol Ake Ake Pinot Gris Chardonnay 2011 ($20) an 80/20 blend. It's tropical fruit with hints of passionfruit and a touch of lime, a soft rounded mouthfeel and a satisfying finish. Takes chilling well so a top summer-drinking wine.

There's also Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a more grippy Cabernet Franc - so there's something to please everyone.

Ake Ake Vineyard is at 165 Waimate North Road, Kerikeri. Call in for lunch after visiting the historic Waimate North Mission House, the second oldest building that exists in New Zealand. Check out the website for directions and current opening hours for wine tasting and vine dining. And for a review of one of my previous visits to Ake Ake, check out my blog, right here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 5th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 4 - Fat Pigs and Labradors

Bruce Soland is still talked about in Kerikeri as the local golf pro, but it's wine that takes up all of Bruce's spare time these days and he definitely takes wacky to the extreme. And why not, because the tourists love it. The wine's not bad either.

Heading north on State Highway 10 from the super-sized Kerikeri roundabout, the second road on the left is Puketotara Road, home to a cluster of five boutique vineyards. But Soland's Fat Pig Vineyard is the only one with a cellar door.

The driveway, bordered by vines, leads you to the converted barn where you are invited to 'ring the piggy for wine'. A signboard at the rear of the shed lists the range of wines for sale with Runty Rosé, Pig-o-Gris, Sow Blanc Char-boar-nay and Wild Boar Port interspersed amongst the more conventional names. And when you see the 'Giggly Piggly' (sparkling Pinot Gris) it's virtually impossible to suppress a smile.

Bruce admits he always been a bit of a wine buff, having worked in a West Auckland vineyard as a school boy. He moved to Kerikeri in 1997 and after buying the property and his menagerie of animals in 2001, he established Fat Pig Vineyard in 2003, firstly planting Syrah, then Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc followed.

"I grow Sauvignon Blanc because people ask for it," says Bruce. In 2010 he added 10% Marlborough fruit to his home grown vines to 'fill up the tank'. In 2011, it's all home-grown Northland fruit.

Fat Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18) is a light straw colour with perfumed aromatics. It's typically grassy and vibrantly fruity with a tropical intonation and a touch of sweetness. A juicy wine for immediate drinking.
Fat Pig Pinot Gris 2010 ($22) is light gold coloured, aromatic and fruity with a smoky nuance even though it's seen no oak. A crisp dry wine and juicy when chilled – which can only be a good thing in a Northland summer.
Fat Pig Chardonnay 2008 ($20) is full-bodied with a toasty oak profile, grilled peach and hazelnuts flavours infused with citrus and a long dry finish. "I like oak," says Bruce. I like the wine with its lovely sweet rich, ripe fruit.
Fat Pig Syrah 2009 ($25) is translucent ruby coloured and medium-bodied in style. It's spicy and savoury, a little grippy, yet well balanced with an infusion of wild blackberry and ready for drinking now.
In contrast Fat Pig Syrah 2010 ($35) is intensely coloured and monumental in structure. A muscular peppery wine, it shows long term potential.

Fat Pig Vineyard at 177 Puketotara Road, Kerikeri, is open daily from 11 am to 6 pm for wine tastings and sales. Meet the animals and taste the wines. Just don't leave your car door open because one of the Labradors will make itself comfortable in your seat. Easily one of New Zealand's most memorable wine experiences. Just don't leave your sense of humour behind. See

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 4th 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 3 - Pukekos everywhere

Kelvin and Chrissie Mowat named their vineyard adjacent to State Highway 10, just 1.7 kilometres north of the Kerikeri roundabout, for the pukekos that live by the bordering Whiringatau Stream at the bottom of their paddock. The colourful swamp hens that New Zealanders call pukeko, not only frolic in the stream and the bottom paddock but their images, as memorabilia, are everywhere, most notably on the vivid wine bottle label where a cobalt blue pukeko holds a glass of wine. Not surprisingly tourists are drawn to this wacky label and turn down the right of way to the cellar door when the 'Open' sign is out.

Kelvin, a former real estate agent, and hairdresser wife Chrissie, moved from Tauranga to Kerikeri for a lifestyle change. They became enthused about wine after meeting Bruce Soland from the nearby Fat Pig vineyard,. Kelvin's drinking habits quickly changed from beer to wine. With Bruce's encouragement they planted 1.6 hectares of their 2.5 hectare property with 2000 grapevines comprising 800 Syrah, 200 Sauvignon Blanc, 400 Chambourcin, 400 Pinot Gris and 200 Chardonnay. Kelvin looks after the viticulture and Rod MacIvor makes the wines.

Now as well as working on his vineyard, Kelvin contracts his services to other lifestylers, "I have the tractors and equipment, may as well use them," he says. The former real estate agent is a dab hand at ramming in fencing posts and straining wires.

Open on weekdays from 3 – 5pm , and Saturday from 10 am – 5pm, wine tastings are free. These are the wines I tried.

Pukeko Vineyard White Tail Pinot Gris 2010 is light gold coloured and incredibly aromatic despite being chilled – and it needs to be chilled, as it is quite sweet and could be flabby without refrigeration. Oily textured with pear, hints of citrus and a little touch of zest as it lingers, there's some appealing flinty nuances too. 12.5% alc. $22

Pukeko Vineyard Sticky Beak Chambourcin 2010 is a rich, fruity wine, deep in colour with a savoury, gamey backbone, velvety tannins and a creamy coating of American oak. It spent 6 months in oak and has sumptuous body and mouthfeel despite the lower alcohol. 12.5% alc. $22.

Pukeko Vineyard Blue Bird on Red Stilts Syrah 2010 is a rich, ruby colour and tastes spicy, pepper and dry with a leathery, savoury backbone, and a soft, sweet fruit finish. I think it needs food and Kelvin recommends BBQ steak. 12.5% alc. $25.

I didn't taste the Pukeko Vineyard Red Stilts Syrah Rose 2011 as it was being bottled the day I visited, but if you are touring Northland in January 2012, it will be available at the vineyard now.

Check out the website or drive to the cellar door at 1609A State Highway 10, Kerikeri, to find out more.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 3rd 2012

Touring New Zealand's  Vinous North: Part 2 - TBO at Cottle Hill

If you're looking for a luscious, juicy, dense, chewy red next time you are on your Northland New Zealand travels, then turn off State Highway 10 onto Cottle Hill Road just a little south of the big roundabout on State Highway 10 at Kerikeri. It's on your left as you travel south but if you are travelling north then look out for the vines stretching up the hill on the right hand side of the road – they will be your marker. Up the hill you'll find the Cottle Hill Estate cellar door overlooking the neatly manicured vines back towards the highway. Michael and/or Barbara Webb will welcome you here.

The red that's making waves is the Cottle Hill Northland Dolcetto 2010, one of only a handful of wines made from this grape variety in New Zealand. It's a shiny black cherry colour and smells evocative and exciting with its opulent floral and fruity scents and the juicy ripe berry fruit seduces the palate yet is kept in check by the deceptive tannins – it's like the tannins are not there but they assert their presence at the end. The wine is smoky, savoury, gamey and fruity with a leathery backbone and a rich creamy aftertaste.

"It's really exciting," enthuses Barbara while Mike utters, "TBO".
"What's that?" I ask.
"Taste Bud Orgasm," he positively replies with a cheeky little smile.

Cottle Hill Dolcetto 2010 is matured in seasoned French oak. It has 13.8% alcohol and costs $38 a bottle. Too powerful on its own, it begs for weighty food.

At the Cottle Hill cellar door it costs $5 to taste four wines, refundable on purchase, so be sure to include the Dolcetto in your tasting line-up.

You can also try the golden coloured Cottle Hill Chardonnay 2010. This is a ripe-fruited wine with a spicy oak backbone and a full-bodied, creamy finish. With 12 months in French oak, it makes me think of melon and prosciutto - that would be a great accompaniment for sure. Mike also recommends creamy pasta. $35 a bottle.

The couple planted NZ’s northern-most Pinot Noir in 1997 and there's a local following for this lighter styled red. I found Cottle Hill Pinot Noir 2010 smoky, nuggety, leathery and savoury with a woolly texture. Not surprisingly, the best food match is lamb. 13% alc. $35.

Cottle Hill Chambourcin 2010 sits in palate weight between the Pinot Noir and the Dolcetto. It's a bright ruby colour, not quite opaque. There's a gamey nuance to the fruity aroma and plum and juicy blackberry fruit is upfront in the palate. Behind the fruit is a savoury backbone, a nice touch of oak from the seasoned barrels and hints of bacon on the dry finish. Just 12.8% alcohol and a fabulous pasta or BBQ red for $18 a bottle.

"What I like about 'Chambo' is that alcohol can be restrained yet the wine can still be opulent," says Mike. This one certainly is!

The sails on the label represent the yacht that Michael and Barbara sailed from San Diego to New Zealand. They planted their first vines in 1996. Check them out at

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 2nd 2012

Touring New Zealand's Vinous North: Part 1 - A collection of quirky labels

The northern wine region of New Zealand is overlooked by many wine-passionate tourists who book their flights to Queenstown and the alluring Central Otago wine region of the South Island, but for the many non-wine tourists that head north from Auckland to the Bay of Islands and beyond, some quirky wine experiences await.

northlandsign.jpg (14945 bytes)Kerikeri, some 240 kilometres north of Auckland, is the seat of the Northland wine industry and it makes sense, as it is where the Reverend Samuel Marsden planted the first grapevines in New Zealand in 1819, along with fruit trees of many different varieties. Marsden didn't make wine and Kerikeri took off as the citrus capital of New Zealand. But grapegrowing is making a comeback.

Rod and Cindy MacIvor planted their vineyard in 1993 and called it Marsden Estate after the country's first grapegrower. Spurred on by the MacIvor's success, Kerikeri is now home to a number of boutique vineyards where wine supplements lifestyle. Most of the growers utilise the expertise and winemaking facilities the MacIvor's Marsden Estate winery.

Over the next few days we'll visit some of the vineyards via these pages.

To get a quick overview of what labels you can find from Northland, pop into The Gallery Cafe at 342 Kerikeri Road on the main road, on your left as you drive into Kerikeri township from State Highway 10.

northlandgrowers.jpg (61785 bytes)Wines for sale include Fat Pig, Morepork, Bent Duck, Strugglers Ridge, Far North Wine Co, Marsden Estate and Karikari Estate. I met some of the producers - Dave Monks from Bent Duck, Kathy Voice from Kapiro Vineyard and Phil Minehan from Morepork - they are pictured left to right in the image to the right. And of course I tasted their wines.

Bent Duck Bay of Islands Chardonnay 2010
This is quite a leesy, full malo style with creamy honeyed oak and well balanced flinty notes coming through in the background. Served at the perfect temperature for this wine by Chardonnay lover and grapegrower Dave Monks ("We only grow Chardonnay," he says), this is full-bodied and rich with caramel peach notes lingering and very enjoyable on the day. Matured in 50% new French and 50% used American oak, it's a niche product as just 400 bottles were made. $28-$30. No website. Wines also available at the Fat Pig Vineyard, at the Gallery and at festivals.

Kapiro Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010
Kathy Voice and Garry Williams planted their tiny alongside State Highway 10, north of Kerikeri, in 2008 and this is the first vintage. With abundant aromas of apple and pear it smells distinctly Pinot Gris and it tastes spicy and zesty with expansive mouthfeel and although it seems off dry on first tasting, it was served well chilled and had quite a steely finish. A wine that needs chilling, it's perfect to keep in the ice bucket in the hot Northland summer sun.13% alc. $28.

Morepork Rosemary’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2010
I tasted this on a visit to Northland in September 2010 was and was impressed (click here for those ramblings and the story behind the name) so it was interesting to revisit this wine. Today it was served well chilled, which initially made it seem quite steely, but as the chilly edge thawed the wine compounded in fruit richness and let the aromatic and rich pear scents come through. Lovely lightly viscous mouthfeel. Drinking well now. 13.5% alc. 9 g/l residual sugar.

Morepork Pinot Gris 2011
Very dry and steely with hints of bubblegum esters, this is a lovely youthful, textural Pinot Gris and the residual sugar is well balanced. 13.5% alc. 7.5g/l residual sugar. $20.  No website. No cellar door. Available in local restaurants. Email

Previous Entries
Following Entries
Complete Blog Archive home

copyright Sue Courtney 2012