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Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings

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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.

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Archive: March / April 2012
Apr 23rd: For champions of Chenin, Forrest delivers
Apr 16th: V is for Vegan - and there are wines for you!
Apr 11th: What kind of wine shopper are you?
Apr 10th: A is for Arneis
Mar 21st: Wine Me Up Wednesday: Waimea Classic Riesling 2009
Mar 18th: Who is Clark Estate and isn't two Degrees a telephone company?
Mar 17th: A little bit of the Irish in Te Mata's iconic Coleraine
Mar 14th: Decanting Woodthorpe Syrah and the 'slosh jug' way
Mar 11th: Misha's in the Limelight
Mar 8th: Johnny Q on Radio Live
Mar 7th: Kumeu River Pinot Noir harvest - a photo essay
Mar 1st: The grape harvest is getting near
Older Entries

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

For champions of Chenin, Forrest delivers

One of the wines I grew to enjoy immensely, after my life-changing first taste of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the discovery of glorious Gewurztraminer, was Chenin Blanc, first tasted on the West Auckland wine trail at Collards Wines in Lincoln Road. I discovered a crisp, clean dry white with striking acidity honed by unctuous richness and texture.

By this time Neil and I were members of Cellarmasters Wine Club, at first run by Wilson Neil and then by Liquorland after a store name change, and we had forked out money to learn even more about wine at night school.

It was at these tastings we were introduced to Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc but named for the place where it is grown in the Loire Valley in France. And in our advanced wine course we discovered just how mind-boggling delicious aged Chenin Blanc could be. A few years later, at a 50th birthday party in 1997, we'd tasted a Vouvray from the birthday boy's birth year, 1947, and it was like out-of-this-world amazing.

Vouvrays were expensive so the locally produced Collards Chenin Blanc remained a favourite tipple. Sadly fine wine stores weren't interested in stocking it. Not to worry as I could find it on the bottom shelf in the supermarket wine department for around $8.99 a bottle, along with the now maligned Muller Thurgau wines that the popular Sauvignon Blanc had displaced. And of course there was Collards cellar shop in Lincoln Road, although by now it was in the midst of industrial expansion and turning left into the driveway in busy two lane traffic was done with bated breath, hoping the car behind would not rear-end you.

Collards are no long trading and last year the old cellar door was dismantled. But the memory of those wines live on.

Lucky for me, I've found a replacement. It's Forrest Marlborough Chenin Blanc 2010 it is possibly the top white wine I've tasted during the first three and half months of this year.  It's this week's Wine of the Week.

A light gold coloured wine with a radiant lustre, it has a rich toasty aroma that initially I thought hinted of a little age and the scent is joined with yellow-skinned heritage apples and intriguing floral nuances too. Then in the palate there's a touch of sweetness balancing the tantalising orange/tangelo flavours plus melon and honeysuckle, and a concentrated richness like you get in apricot jam but without the jamminess, if you know what I mean. An exquisite wine with clean acidity, perfect oiliness to the texture, harmony and balance and a lingering ripe red apple finish. Tasted amongst a lineup of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner, I scored it 19/20.

We accompanied this wine with a salad of buttercrunch lettuce adorned with fresh peach slices, vine-ripened tomatoes, feta and cream cheese. It was simply delish.

On the Forrest website the tech notes say the wine has 11.4% alc (11.5% on the bottle), 13 g/l residual sugar, 6.7g/l titratable acidity and a pH of 3.14.

"Marlborough 2010 vintage climate proved perfect for Chenin Blanc; modest crops, good summer growth conditions, long dry sunny vintage; giving that all important extra hang time for ripening without rot. Definitely one of our best vintages for Chenin and for me, I’m comparing it to the great 2001 already," states John Forrest.

This is only the fifth Chenin Blanc they have made in the last 10 years and this vintage has seen 20% barrel fermentation. Recommend food match is roast pork and apple sauce. I'm now salivating about washing down crispy pork crackling with this wine too.

Price is $25 a bottle and cellaring is recommended; yet it's quite delicious already.

Check out for where you might be able to buy although sadly not all retailers can be bothered with Chenin. Such a shame. But you can buy online or if you are touring the Marlborough wineries do be sure to visit the cellar door.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 16th 2012

V is for Vegan - and there are wines for you!

"Samantha Hayes is doing Drive next week," said Radio Live's Drive Show producer Mark Wilson when I finished my on air wine chat just before Easter. 

I knew nothing about Samantha other than she used to read news on TV3. Hadn't seen her for a while though. I would find out later that was because she was 'on loan' to Channel 7 newsroom in Australia. The loan period was up. She was coming back to her homeland.

"I've got a Sauv Blanc for next week," I replied to Mark. But when I got home I decided to fire up the Google browser to see what I could find out about Sam. That's what you do these days, because you can. I typed 'Samantha Hayes wine' into the Google search box. Well, lordy me. Up popped stories about Samantha being vegan! And in an interview with Sam in Good magazine was a surprising and somewhat disturbing comment. She said that someone told her, "You know you won’t be able to drink wine." 
My immediate reaction was, 'Gosh, I have to fix this misinformation.'

Vegans are strict vegetarians who do not eat any products derived from animals. This means milk, eggs, fish and gelatine are not on a vegan's menu. Vegetarians who are not vegan may choose to eat animal-derived products such as a milk, eggs and cheese. Others may avoid only animal meat, yet still eat creatures from the sea.

I looked at the back label of my Sauv Blanc. "Produced with the aid of milk. Traces may remain." This wine would not do for a vegan.

I hear you ask, "Why is milk used in wine? Surely wine is just pure grapes with the action of yeast to ferment grape sugars into alcohol?".

Well, you may be surprised to find out that milk and other animals products may be used in wine in a process called fining, which takes place just before the wine is bottled. There's also filtering, which removes coarse material such as yeast lees and any remnants of the grapes, eg skins, pips and stalks. But fining is used to remove organic compounds, to adjust aroma and flavour and to stabilise and clarify the wine. There are many products that can be used for fining and each has a specific role. They include:

  • Casein - a protein derived from milk
  • Egg whites (albumin)
  • Isinglass - a collagen from the swim bladders of certain fish
  • Gelatine - from bones and connective tissues of cows and pigs
  • Chitin - from shells
  • Bentonite - a clay
  • Silica gel and other natural rock and mineral products
  • Synthetic fining agents

The alternative is no fining at all. "Careful management in the winery and gravity does the job," explained West Brook's winemaker James Rowan, who produces some unfined wines.

So while some wines are not suitable for vegans, there are many that definitely are. Vegans can drink wines fined without the use of animal products and wines that haven't had any fining at all. But how do they know? Well, the back label may have clues.

  • Firstly the Vegetarian Society Approved logo. Moana Park is one of only two wineries in New Zealand that displays this logo across the full range of wines. The other is Wright's Wines from Gisborne. Others would like to use it but as Tim Kerruish from Folding Hill in Central Otago explains, "We did look at getting accredited by the Vegetarian Society but more compliance costs so didn't in the end."
  • Secondly a statement stating the wine has not been fined, ie unfined.

Wines labels are required by law to state whether milk or egg products or fish collagen fining products other than isinglass have been used in the wine. This is an 'allergen statement'. Prior to October 2011, the use of isinglass had to be stated too. If nothing is mentioned on the back label and there is no commentary that the wine is unfined yet you really want to try the wine, the best thing to do is to contact the wine producer directly stating exactly which wine you are questioning.

I contacted two producers whose bottles in the supermarket stated only the use of preservatives. So they hadn't used milk or eggs but could they have used isinglass or gelatine?

Catherine from Trinity Hill responded saying the wines I questioned were fined with bentonite and while many of their wines don't use animal products, some did.  "I think each winery would have to confirm it for the individuals. As we do not target the vegetarian market, we don’t take the additional step to disclose all the products used in fining. Perhaps it is something worth considering," she said.

The other producer I contacted replied, "We only declare milk or egg products used in fining, as required by law." If that is the reply you get when making enquiries, I'd say pick another bottle off the shelf - there sure are plenty out there.

There are a number of wine producers listed on the (toolkit page -see PDF on right hand side) and Some labels include:

Rockburn (Central Otago) - all wines
Te Whare Ra (Marlborough)- all wines except the 2010 Syrah
Blackenbrook (Nelson) whites wines only and from the 2011 vintage onwards only

Another way to find v-friendly labels is to Google "nz wine unfined". There is an abundance of labels returned from the search.

Winemakers could make it easier for consumers by simply on the back label that no animal products have been used in the production of their wine, if indeed that is the case.

I chose Moana Park Estate Series Viognier 2010 ($19 - $22) from Hawkes Bay to take into the studio and taste with Samantha. She asked why I chose it. It was an easy question to answer. Apart from being vegan-friendly and Moana Park asking me if I would like a wine to review when I asked on Twitter for vegan-friendly wines, I truly love this wine. I had tasted it last November at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards gold medal tasting and swooned. Then again in February when I was passing through Hawkes Bay on route from Masterton to Auckland. I only had time to visit one winery and Moana Park, inland from Taradale, at Puketapu, was more or less on the way. This wine was the highlight of the tasting and I bought some to take home. Like the best Viogniers it has the aromatic qualities of the most redolent Rieslings, the full-bodied texture of Chardonnay but without the oak and the spicy flourish and rose petal-like florals of Gewurztraminer at the end. And most of all it has the ethereal apricot and creamed nut flavours we expect from the Viognier grape. Simply magic!  

But the other important thing I learned from my in studio chat with Samantha that she was only vegan for a year. Now a not-so-strict vegetarian, she is no longer averse to milk and egg products. So I'll be taking in the Sauvignon Blanc this week. Listen on streaming from 3.45pm Wednesday, New Zealand time.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 11th 2012

What kind of wine shopper are you?

If you listened to my wine segment on Radio Live Drive last week (4th April) I talked about different kinds of wine shoppers. The basis for this came from a survey of 3500 shoppers by Constellation Wines in the USA. They came up with six categories and found that more than a quarter of the people they surveyed were 'overwhelmed' by wine. Here's a link to an overview of the original survey.

I've added a couple more based on people I know, perhaps even phases I went through as I grew into wine.  What kind of wine shopper are you?

1. No Frills
You only shop at the supermarket and you head straight to the discount stacks. You don't really care what the wine is. Never heard of the label before, doesn't matter. Grape varieties not stated, doesn't matter. So long as it is cheap and the cheaper the better. It's a bargain.

2. Overwhelmed
You don't know much about wine. You stand there looking at all the wines, so many labels, so many varieties. It's overwhelming. But you don't want to ask anyone because that would make you appear ignorant and let's face it, in the supermarket there's usually no-one to ask anyway. You are too intimidated to go into a specialist wine shop and you think a wine shop would be more expensive. Finally you see a wine you've heard of before, so you buy that.

3. Satisfied Sipper
You don't know much about wine as such, but know what you like so you head straight to your favourite brand. These are the wines you always buy for your daily tipple. Even better if they are on promotion. Satisfied sippers belong to a mail order wine clubs with an assortment of wines arriving on the doorstep every month.

4. Traditionalist
You don't drink every day, but you do like to entertain at home. Wine makes an occasion feel more formal. You stick to the established wineries and the varieties that you know.

5. Savvy Shopper
You are constantly looking for the best buys. You are a walking calculator and instantly know the percentage you are saving off the full retail price when the wine is on special. Even better if your favourite variety or favourite brand is on special. Then you stock up to keep you going until the next round of promotions

6. Adventurous Shopper
You don't know much about wine. You stand there looking at all the wines, so many labels, so many varieties. It's exciting. You want to try a brand you haven't tried before, or a variety you haven't tried before. You take the wine off the shelf and check out the back label for more information (if it is there). You may have a copy of a wine column or wine guide. You are not afraid of asking for help and go to specialist wine shops because you know you will get good advice - and a whole new world of wine opens up to you.

7. Enthusiast
You are knowledgable and open-minded about wine. You know about the wine producing regions of the world. You read wine books, blogs, twitter and make notes and are keen to share your knowledge. You know there is more than Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. You go to wine tastings and you know how to spot a bargain. You know this that $20 wine is just as good as that $40 wine. You are a wine geek. Of course you have to be careful because you could be bordering on becoming a wine bore.

8. Image Seeker
Wine is a status symbol. You head straight to the top shelf. You want an expensive wine with critic points to match. The more you spend on a bottle, the better you think it is and the more you spend on a bottle, the more you think you will impress anyone and everyone. After all you are better than everyone and everyone! And you like your wines to stand out, even if the price tag is better then the taste. You are a wine snob.

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

A is for Arneis

If was to review a wine varietal a day, starting at the beginning of the alphabet with the letter A, I'd start with Arneis. But that could because a couple of new Arneis wines just happened to come my way.

Arneis is an ancient grape variety that can be traced back to the 15th century Italy where it grew in Piedmont on the hills of Roero. But over the years plantings dwindled almost to extinction and in the 1970s, with red wines now the focus for the region, only two producers were making Arneis. But a resurgence in ancient Italian varietals was the saviour for the Arneis grape. As innovative growers the world over became aware of Arneis, they wanted to know more. Cuttings of Arneis went off shore.

Arneis was first planted in New Zealand in 1998 at the Vin Alto vineyard near Clevedon (in the greater Auckland region) by Swiss-born Enzo Bettio, founder of Delmaine Fine Foods and lover of all things Italian, especially wine grape varietals. It's now produced by several companies including Coopers Creek, Trinity Hill, Forrest, Herzog, Matawhero, Brancott and Villa Maria and vineyards have sprouted in Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough to name three.

Villa Maria sent me wines to taste and review, not one, but two. Both from Hawkes Bay, the aromas of these wines are bright and exhilarating. Like a bowl of fruit salad with a dollop of passionfruit stirred in with pears, nectarine, pineapple and a tangy citrussy freshness - and that's just the scent from the wines as they are set on the table.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Arneis 2011 smells juicy and fresh and tastes medium bodied, zesty and tingly with a juicy fruit presence - pear, pineapple, passionfruit come to mind, with a slightly flinty undercurrent. Perfectly balanced, it seems like an easy drinking fruity wine without being too confrontational with an ethereal whimsiness the whole way through. Five percent of the wine was fermented in old oak with wild yeast, and alcohol achieved is 13%. 4.5 stars. RRP $23.99.

Villa Maria Private Bin Arneis 2011 has a little more of a banana nuance to the scent. The taste seems a little more savoury and fuller and the fruit more reminiscent of melons, cherimoya and green passionfruit. This wine seems ever so slightly sweeter even though the residual sugar is so low the wine could be classified bone dry. A citrussy tang characterises the finish. An oak free zone, alcohol achieved was also 13%. 4 stars. RRP $21.99 but there could be savings of up to $9.00 when the wines are on promotion in the supermarket chains - and that makes a great introductory price for someone who wants to take a punt on trying this new varietal.

I recommend chilling the wines for half an hour and accompanying with a peach and baby greens salad, but hurry, it's almost the end of the peach season.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 21st 2012

Wine Me Up Wednesday: Waimea Classic Riesling 2009

When the gold medal winners from the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards were announced in February, one wine caught my attention. Waimea Classic Riesling 2009 from Nelson had just won its 6th gold medal in open competition. Now a gold medal award is something every wine producer who enters a wine show aspires to, and a gold medal wine is something to celebrate. However sometimes one gold medal is all they will ever receive, despite entering show after show after show. But six gold medals shows consistency - both from the classiness of the wine and the consistency of judging panels. Just look at these results for this Waimea -

Gold Medal Royal Easter Show Wine Awards 2012
Gold Medal Royal Easter Show Wine Awards 2011
Gold Medal Bragato Wine Awards 2011
Gold Medal Air NZ Wine Awards 2010
Gold Medal Air NZ International Wine Show 2010
Gold Medal & Trophy International Aromatic Wine Competition 2010

I love this Riesling. It's juicy and mouthwatering with honeysuckle, lime and tropical fruit aromas and an array of tropical fruit and citrus flavours with a touch of ginger and honey. It's just off dry with the sweetness (14.2 g/l rs) beautifully balancing the nervy (8.4 g/l) acidity and the finish is fresh and long.  And the alcohol at 12% is moderate too. So I immediately contacted Martin Carrington At Waimea Brands to find out the wine's availability.

"Heh heh how many hundred cases would you like," he replied.
"Great distribution throughout the country too," he added.
It's $18-$20, but can be down to $15 on promotions.

So why is a wine that has so many awards still available for sale?

The answer, I fear, is because it is Riesling. It's misunderstood in a country where Sauvignon Blanc reigns as the white wine queen. And the reason it's misunderstood is because people do not know what they are going to get.

Grab a Clare Valley Riesling off the shelf and you know it will be dry. Similarly with a Riesling from Alsace. With a German Riesling you will get some idea from the way it is labelled, eg Kabinett, Spatlese, QBA, the lower levels light and floral with increasing levels of sweetness.

Where do New Zealand's Riesling sit? Well they could be anywhere in the spectrum - bone dry like a Clare Valley wine or light, floral and sweet with low alcohol, like from the Mosel. But the Classic Rieslings are usually right bang in the middle - moderate sugar to balance the nervy acidity with juicy, mouthwatering, vibrant flavours. 

A group of Riesling producers have introduced the Riesling Taste Profile, which is used as a graphic representation on the back label to show where the perceived taste is on a dry - medium - sweet scale. Unfortunately it's only been adopted by about half a dozen producers in New Zealand. So I say if you are not sure about what Riesling to buy, look for one with 'Classic' on the label. If it's like the Waimea Classic Riesling 2009, it will be sure to please.

Riesling is also one of the most magnificent wines to cellar. It's the acidity that gives it longevity. They become toasty and hedonistic with time.

A podcast of today's Radio Live program can be heard on the Radio Live website's 7 Day Catch Up service until the end of Tuesday 27th March, New Zealand Daylight Time. Here's the link: . Choose Wednesday (21/03) Mar 21 2012 15.45. I start after the adverts have finished, about 7 minutes through.

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

Who is Clark Estate and isn't Two Degrees a telephone company?

The 2012 Royal Easter Show Wine Awards escalated some new names and labels into the limelight at the Trophy presentations last night, Clark Estate and Two Degrees amongst them while winemaker Tony Southgate was awarded the medal for Winemaker of the Year for the Champion Wine of the Show, the Brightwater Lord Rutherford Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2009 from Nelson.

Clark Estate is a Marlborough wine company and one of the labels from Boreham Wood, the English-named vineyard high in the Awatere Valley. I saw their early wines and the Sauvignon Blancs were impressive - see this write-up. Now it seems they are excelling with Riesling, winning gold medals for both Clark Estate Riesling 2011 and Boreham Wood Riesling 2011 at this year's Easter Show, the trophy going to the Clark Estate wine.

Two Degrees is in Central Otago, between Cromwell and Wanaka. Owners Richard and Diane Somerville planted their vineyard at the base of the Pisa Range in 2003 with the first vintage in 2007, entrusting the grapes entrusted to Dan and Sarah-Kate Dineen to make the wine. Looks like they have done a good job as Two Degrees took out gold for both the 2009 and 2010 vintages at this years Easter Show, but it was the 2009 that took out the Trophy for Champion Pinot Noir.

A few usual suspects in the Trophy list announced on this morning but a few upsets too - including Lindauer Classic Brut, possibly the cheapest wine in the competition, getting the gong for top Sparkling Wine. Here is the list.

Champion Wine of the Show: Brightwater Vineyards Lord Rutherford Barrique Chardonnay 2009
Champion Chardonnay: Brightwater Vineyards Lord Rutherford Barrique Chardonnay 2009
Champion Gewurztraminer: Distant Land Gewurztraminer 2011
Champion Sauvignon Blanc: Villa Maria Single Vineyard Southern Clays Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Champion Riesling: Clark Estate Single Vineyard Riesling 2011
Champion Pinot Gris: Sileni Estate Selection ''The Priestess'' Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris 2010
Champion Viognier: Coopers Creek Gisborne Viognier 2010
Champion Other Varieties: Coopers Creek SV Hawkes Bay Malbec ''Saint John'' 2010
Champion Sweet Wine: Brancott Estate Brancott "B" Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Champion Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot: Church Road Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009
Champion Merlot: Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Merlot 2010
Champion Syrah: Matua Valley Reserve Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2010
Champion Pinot Noir: Two Degrees Pinot Noir 2009
Champion Rosť: Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Rosť 2011
Champion Sparkling: Lindauer Classic Brut NV
Champion Export Wine: Waimea Gewurztraminer 2011

Also noteworthy is the awarding of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal to Sir George Fistonich of Villa Maria for services to the New Zealand Wine Industry while John Buck of Te Mata Estate was inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame.

Villa Maria also won the Heritage Class, in which sets of three wines of current and older vintages are assessed on ageing ability and consistency in winemaking excellence. The wines that took out the trophy were the 2001, 2005 and 2009 vintages of Villa Maria's Reserve Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.

The 1261 entries were down from last years 1543, however this years gold medal tally of 111 was just short of last years 119 record golds.

My Wine Show Gold Medal Summary has now been updated to reflect these Trophy wins - click here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 17th 2012

A little bit of the Irish in Te Mata's iconic Coleraine

What is New Zealand's greatest red wine? The answer will depend who you ask. But there will be no argument as to what is Hawkes Bay greatest Cabernet-based red. It is Coleraine, made by Te Mata Estate and named for Coleraine in Northland Ireland where owner John Buck's grandfather came from.

Every year, in early March, the Te Mata family take to the road for probably one of the best marketing campaigns - the Showcase. Not only for trade and media, but also for winelovers with public events in New Zealand's four main centres as well as a number of events hosted in retail stores throughout the country. It gives wine lovers a chance to taste the wines before they buy and not only the new releases, but for the flagship Coleraine and its sibling Awatea, back vintages too. Rather handy if one has those vintages in their cellar as they can see how the wines are progressing. This year the new release 2010s were tasted alongside the 2006s and the 2008s.

The whites looked stunning, my favourite the delectable Te Mata Zara Viognier 2010. But the reds were jaw dropping and while the 2010s are going are going to go down as one of the top vintages for Te Mata, the 2008s were also looking superb on the day. Now you don't hear too much about the 2008 Coleraine and Awatea as they are sandwiched in between the highly lauded 2007 and 2009 vintages, but the 2008 vintage may surprise many in vertical tastings in the years to come. Both the 2008 Awatea and the 2008 Coleraine were looking superb on the day.

Awatea is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and usually, but not always a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine. It spends 18 to 20 months in new and seasoned French oak. Coleraine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with 19 to 20 months in predominantly new French oak.

Click here to read my reviews of this years Showcase wines

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 14th 2012

Decanting Woodthorpe Syrah and the 'slosh jug' way

It's the night after the night before. You pour yourself a glass of the leftover young red. 'That's funny," you think, because it tastes so much better than it did before. You remember how the tannins were far too dominant and the fruit seemed to be wrapped into a ball. You remember vigorously swirling the glass to try and get the wine to breathe. But what you should have done immediately was decant.

You may think of decanting as a ritual for older wines but it the best way to get young tight wines to open up. The method, however, is not the same.

Older wines need to be treated with kid gloves just because they are old. If the bottle has been laid down in your cellar for a number of years the sediment, which comes from the breakdown of the pigment and tannins in the wine, doesn't want to be shaken around. You need to gently place the bottle in an upright position for 12 to 24 hours to let any loose sediment gravitate to the bottom. Then you carefully pour almost all, but not all, of the contents of the bottle into a decanter, leaving the bottom layer with the sediment in it, behind.

Young wines can be treated rather recklessly. Slosh is the word I like to use.

If you are on the ball, you could slosh the wine into a decanter for at least an hour before drinking. But if you forget to do this,then try my ultimate slosh decanting method, something you will never see in a restaurant.

You need two jugs, each with the capacity to hold the contents of a 750-ml bottle, and a funnel.

Simply slosh the wine from the bottle into one of the jugs, then slosh the wine from the full jug into the empty jug. Repeat a couple of times, then insert the funnel into the top of the bottle and carefully pour the contents of the full jug back into the bottle. Hey presto, in less than a couple of minutes, your wine has had a good breather.

Today I took Te Mata Woodthorpe Syrah 2010 into the Radio Live studios to taste on air with Andrew Paterson. I had earlier poured the wine into a decanter, where it stayed for about 90 minutes then, using a funnel, poured the wine back into the bottle, put the screwcap back on and took the bottle into the studio.woodthorpe-syrah.jpg (14570 bytes)

I decanted the wine because when I tasted it on Friday night I thought the wine needed to breathe. Breathing made the wine we tasted softer and smoother and just so much more enjoyable on the day.

Te Mata Woodthorpe Syrah 2010 has Syrah's hallmark pepper characters both on the nose and in the palate. The bouquet is all cherries, red pepper and carnations and the flavours have a deep dark fruit presence, a meaty backbone, a velvety texture and a long dry savoury finish.Priced around $17 to $22 depending where you buy, it's available nationwide and of course from Te Mata Estate 's cellar door in Hawkes Bay or online at I rate it 4 stars.

This is a wine that is best enjoyed with food and something as simple as a slice of French bread topped with a slice of semi-soft cheese, such as Edam, will do. However on Friday night we had steak and because the wine was as meaty as the meat, I quickly whisked up a redcurrant jelly sauce, which introduced some sweetness and complemented the juicy steak and the dry spicy wine.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 11th 2012

Misha's in the Limelight

MishaIt was good to catch up with Misha and Andy Wilkinson and winemaker Ollie Masters at Misha's annual lunch at the Grove in Auckland's CBD. I passed up the invitation last year because the petrolhead side of me got in the way. This year wine and food wine matching with Misha won out - or it could be I had sated my car passion at a rally a couple of weeks previously.

It was a chance to revisit the Misha's whites from the 2008 vintage, tasted as brand new releases in November 2008. This time they would be tasted alongside the newly released 2011s.

Misha's Vineyard 'Dress Circle' Pinot Gris

On release the 2008 was delicately fragrant with a slightly oily textured palate with pear and mandarin and a bright citrus flourish to the zesty finish. There was a heady alcoholic warmth yet a refreshing coolness. Now the 2008 was showing intriguing aged characters and the oak, which was not at all detectable in its youth, more prominent. A smoky bouquet leads the way for poached pear and toasty nuances in the palate with a spicy richness, yet it still has a fresh phenolic and acid bite. And what surprised me most was that the lingering finish was incredibly like the long focussed finish of the younger wine beside it. The 2011 has a delicately floral, citrussy bouquet and initially seems a quite dry, steely wine but only until the intensity and concentration of fruit comes through. There's an oily caress to the texture and the fruit is all fresh pear, apple and lime with a nutty richness and a hint of spice. Like the 2008 in its youth, it was hard to detect that oak had been used for the pressings.
** Both wines a harmonious match to the melt in the mouth Terrine of Alpine Salmon

Misha's Vineyard 'The Gallery' Gewurztraminer

On release the 2008 was richly flavoured, delicate yet full, expansive and persistent with aromatic spices, a touch of damask rose, Asian and tropical fruit and a hint of anise. Now the 2008 exhibits jut how delicious Gewurztraminer can be with a little age. While the spicy rose petal bouquet is delicate, the flavours are rich, concentrated and luscious and the finish is fantastically long. The 2011 is perfectly varietal rose petal and Asian spices and the rich concentrated silky-textured palate has a honey / nectar-like sweetness and a powerful finish with musk, spice, orange water and zest lingering. Perhaps some phenolics from the oak at this stage of it life, but that's setting it up to age beautifully like the 2008.
** Both wines just perfect with Faux Foie Gras on a Parsnip Sliver.

Misha's Vineyard 'Limelight' Riesling

On release the 2008 had a florally lime and and apple bouquet and tasted rich, weighty and concentrated with racy lime flavours to tame the 29g/l of residual sweetness. Now the 2008 was everything I love in aged Riesling - toasty and honeyed with fruit weight, richness, acid balance and simply fantastic length. The 2011 has lovely citrus blossom florals and the taste is just off dry. It's spicy and honeyed with bright acidity, intense lime and yuzu citrus, a touch of liquorice and a clean crisp finish with sweet citrus/honey flavours lingering. Beautifully harmonious and so impressive, it just has to be my Wine of the Week.
** The inspired match here was Crayfish with a Heirloom Tomato and Vanilla.

Also poured were the 2008 and 2009 High Note and Verismo Pinot Noirs. 2008 was supposedly a lesser year in Central Otago, but you wouldn't think so with these wines. While the 2009s were characterised by silky tannins and seemingly easy drinkability, the 2008s were more intense in colour with more structure, more tannins and more concentration - they are wines to last.

I preferred the Verismo wines to my food match of Roasted Duck Breast, Croustillant of Duck Leg and Fig. Verismo 2009 was aromatic, seamless and silky while Verismo 2008, despite its opulent tannins, had a fruit of the forest intensity and a lovely hint of liquorice/anise that so complemented the spice-encrusted duck breast.

Check out for more.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 8th 2012

Johnny Q on Radio Live

The wine I took into taste with Andrew Paterson on Radio Live ( yesterday is one of my all-time value-packed favourites. Johnny Q Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 states South Australia on the bottle but the according to the tech notes on the Quarisa Wines ( the fruit is from Coonawarra in the south east of South Australia and regarded as one of the world's premier cabernet sauvignon wine regions.

A terrifically warm rich red with impenetrable purple red colour, seductive vanillin oak, chocolate and cassis scent, a smooth tannin structure and lovely harmony of oak, chocolate, plums and cassis flavours, this is a brilliant Cab Sauv and unbelievable quality for the price, which can be found on special in some fine wine stores and some supermarkets for $14.99. RRP is $18.99 and you are being ripped off if you pay more than this because someone's taking a big fat profit margin for themselves.

Johnny Quarisa, a fully trained winemaker, has worked for some of Australia's biggest companies. When he worked for Yellowtail, his wines were awarded two of Australia top trophies - the Jimmy Watson and the Stoddart. Now the master of his own destiny, he doesn't own any vineyards or a winery. He lives in NSW and has his wines made to his specifications at wineries in South Australia. He's what's known as a virtual winemaker.

An international wine judge judging at wine competitions around the world, he knows what wine judges like but he's also very big on market research and knows what consumers want too. Passionate about what he does, this clever man is producing smart wine at super affordable prices for the quality being offered.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 7th 2012

Kumeu River Pinot Noir harvest - a photo essay

Kumeu River (, one of the closest vineyards to New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, harvested their Pinot Noir from the Hunting Hill vineyard, opposite the winery, yesterday. Here's how I saw it, in photos.

S & N Courtney photos Nets are off the Pinot Noir vines and the harvest crew are ready to earn a days wage.
S & N Courtney photos They work progressively down each row.
S & N Courtney photos On the vine then snip, it's gone.
S & N Courtney photos From bucket to bin.
S & N Courtney photos Tractors take bins across busy State Highway 16 to the winery, a vintage Massey Ferguson in the lead.
S & N Courtney photos More bins arrive by truck. This nifty fork lift weighs each bin. Nineteen bins in total with about 500-kg of grapes each. A yield of 9.5 tonnes this year, a little more than in 2011.
S & N Courtney photos The pinot noir bunches are tiny and the bunch I am holding is pristine.
S & N Courtney photos Winemaker Michael Brajkovich MW taste tests the grapes. "Yum," he says.
"What's the quality like," I ask.
"Time will tell, it hasn't been through fermentation yet!"
S & N Courtney photos The fork lift lifts a bin high and tilts it so the grapes fall into the crusher.
S & N Courtney photos Out one end comes the stalks. This is the only waste.
S & N Courtney photos And into the tanks goes the 'must'. This is the juice, pips and skins.
All ferments at Kumeu River are from indigenous yeasts and they'll start to convert the natural grape sugar into alcohol within 2 or 3 days. What you see here will soon be wine to be eventually bottled as Kumeu River Pinot Noir 2012.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 1st 2012

The grape harvest is getting near

If you are driving around wine country and see nets on the vines it's a sign that vintage is near. And if you see the nets being lifted, then grapes are about to be harvested.

I usually hear of the first wine grapes of the vintage being harvested in Gisborne, but not this year. Auckland has beaten them to it.

Villa Maria picked Pinot Noir for sparkling wine from their Mangere vineyard on the 21st February. The vineyard is in the crater of an old volcano and with volcanic soils and a beaut little microclimate in there.

But I had just visited West Brook in Waimauku, out the back of Kumeu and there the Pinot Noir grapes were still changing colour. They are later because of the different soils (clay), the different aspect and quite probably different clones.

However I couldn't have arrived at West Brook at a better time because the nets were going on the Pinot Gris vines. It was an interesting exercise to see.

But now harvest has actually commenced in Kumeu because on the 28th February, Kumeu River harvested some of their Pinot Noir grapes from around the winery. Maybe they are also going to make a sparkling wine this year? Paul Brajkovich told me they plan to start their main harvest next Tuesday (6th March), but of course that depends on the weather.

It's a strange season and as most of us know, the summer has been cool and wet. But how short are our memories? James Rowan, winemaker at West Brook reminds me by saying, "2011 was a training season for this year."

Today, the first day of autumn, dawned as if it was the first day of winter. So it is not surprising that most of the vineyards around the country are running late.  

Paul Mason of Martinborough Vineyards says it's going to be late in Martinborough - he may even get Easter off and Katy Prescott at Nautilus Estate in Marlborough says they are still a long way off down there. Further south, at Earnscleugh in Central Otago, Phil Handford says veraison is not yet complete at Grasshopper Rock.

I can see what happening around my stamping ground of Kumeu and Matakana (I'll be heading up there this weekend) but it's nice to get a handle of what's happening further south and Phil helps with his pre-harvest update at

Other thing that is notable about the season is the lower crop levels of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, so there are no worries about a Sauvignon Blanc glut any more and contract growers will all be able to sell off their grapes this year.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2012