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: June 2012
Jun 30th: Grasshopper Rocks into my Home
Jun 30th: Four Central Otago Pinots with Rack of Lamb
Jun 29th: Life's too short to drink bad wine but ...
Jun 27th: Heart warming Fine Old Muscat on a wintry cold day
Jun 26th: Corked wine - making the best out of something bad
Jun 20th: A whale of a wine to mull over

Jun 13th: Affordable Bordeaux
Jun 6th: Serious Merlot at an affordable price
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 30th 2012

Grasshopper Rocks into my Home

Phil Handford sent me an email. It's Thursday. I'm in the area."

I was planning to go out but I decided I would wait until after Phil visited. After all I had put him off more than once before. "Call in for a cuppa," I replied.

phil handfordPhil came bearing a bottle of Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2010. I wasn't sure why as he knew I didn't score wines and scores are important in this cluttered world of fine wine.

We talked over coffee and peanut butter cookies.

"What makes your wine different," I asked Phil. "What makes it stand out, especially in international competitions?"

He had twice won blue-gold with previous vintages of Grasshopper Rock in Sydney and had done well in London and Hong Kong too. In reference to the Sydney comp he said, "Could be that the wine is judged with food."

I nodded approvingly. After all, that is how I like to enjoy my wines - with food.

Of course, in the competitions that judge wine with food, the wines have to be deemed worthy of progressing through from an initial elimination round - without food.

He also said it was to do with where the grapes were grown, in Alexandra, the most southern sub-region of Central Otago where overnight temperatures are cooler than anywhere else, even though average temperatures are similar. He believes this introduces a more restrained style of Pinot Noir with elegance and silky tannins.

Only one wine is produced off the Earnscleugh Road vineyard, where there are about equal proportions of clones 5, 777, 115, Abel and 667 making up 95 per cent, and clone 114 making up the rest.

I was looking forward to trying with food and Phil recommended BBQ butterfly leg of lamb with rosemary. Hah - the cook would have frozen legs at this time of year so the next day I procured a small rack of lamb for a starter and the cook had keep the kitchen warm with a slow-cooked beef stew, which we had for a main. But the wine was didn't have enough acidity to balance out the mushroom soup (see Jun 29th post) and the sweetness of the soup overpowered the wine at the end.

The wine and meal combinations were tried over two consecutive nights and the glass made a difference too. This is a wine that needs a good-sized bowl to show at its best. But first, my 'first impression' tasting note.

Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 - Alexandra
A deep ruby-hued wine with purple glints in the glass. The bouquet is fruit yet savoury with the intrinsic earthiness and spiciness of Pinot Noir. A medium to full-bodied savoury wine that seems firm and linear to start then grabs the attention with its concentrated, sweet-fruited flavours. There's an evocative anise-like herbaceousness, mulled wine spices and a hint of tamarillo with a lovely flourish of brightness - the peacock's tail flare on the end. 13% alc. Approx. 9 months in French oak, 32% new. Winemaker: Peter Bartle. Screwcap closure.
Go to for where to buy, ratings and reviews.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 30th 2012

Four Central Otago Pinots with Rack of Lamb

With Grasshopper Rock (see above) begging to be tasted, the specially chosen meal just had to be shared - oh yes, my husband got to get some, but it's the wines - how would others fare? Three other Central Otago Pinot Noirs from the same vintage, but representing different sub-regions, were chosen. The wines were tasted blind in XL5 tasting glasses, then transferred one at a time, to a drinking glass, to match to the lamb.

I buy the rack of lamb with the skin on (if I can) for two reasons. Firstly, you are paying a lot of money for the butcher to remove the skin with one flick of the knife and, secondly, the seasoned skin on the rack can be rendered in the cooking pan - I believe it brings more flavour into the finished dish. So skin side down, it was sizzled in the pan with red onion, rosemary, thyme and portabello mushrooms then turned over and finished in the oven. The pan was deglazed with little of the wine to make a jus.

Grasshopper Rock and Mud House were opened the day before this tasting. Hawkshead and Bald Hills were opened just before the tasting, but poured into the glasses about 15 minutes before the other two to bring a more even playing field. Tasting notes as recorded for this exercise.

Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 - Alexandra
Bright crimson ruby - the deepest and most purple of all the quartet. Sweet-fruited savoury aromas, lots to like here. Concentrated pristine cherry fruit, a touch of spice, velvety texture and a bright creamy finish. Shows amazing concentration of fruit today. 13% alc. About $25 - $35.
Food match: A very fruity wine but contrasts nicely with the gamey flavours of the lamb. The wine and the caramelised rosemary leaves were especially divine.

Mud House Golden Terraces Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 - Bendigo
Deep bright red. Brooding savoury, earthy scent with dark fruits and woody herbs - I smell thyme and rosemary. Quite silky in the meaty and savoury palate with lovely dark fruit pushing through. Seems to have benefited from a day in the bottle. 13.5% alc. $24-$30.
Food match: This is good - well actually, it was the best with the lamb. The food combo introduces some lovely anise nuances and with the mushrooms, especially, this is OMG divine.

Hawkshead First Vines Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 - Gibbston
Deep ruby. Lovely ripe, rich, sweet, vanillin-layered, spicy scent. Full-bodied and chocolatey - a lovely wine with delicious red fruit, a well balanced savoury backbone and a bright finish. Everything you expect in Central Otago Pinot Noir is there. A tight wine in many respects with a long life ahead of it. 13% alc. About $45.
Food match: A bit sweet for the meat - better with the just the mushrooms as they bring out a nice spiciness in the wine. Overall the wine is too vanillin for the food but if I had to pick one wine to guzzle, this would be it.

Bald Hills 3 Acres Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 - Bannockburn
Deep ruby red. Quite savoury smelling with an infusion of bright red fruits. Seems a more upfront, easy and approachable wine in the context of the quartet. Floral with red fruits, a touch of spice, supple tannins, red fruits in mulled wine. Just falls a little short at the end. 14% alc. $30.
Food match: The wine is a little too overpowering for the food.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 29th 2012

Life's too short to drink bad wine but ...

… there comes a time when you have to make the best out of something bad. That's why we make mulled wine out of cheap wine. Mulling wine is best with red wines but what do you do when your white wine goes bad? Depends on the degree of badness, I guess.

The other night we opened Corbans Private Bin Marlborough Chardonnay 2001. What a shame, the wine was oxidised. It's the risk you take cellaring wines with corks and the old chardonnays we've tasted lately have been hit and miss. But there have been some glorious ten and eleven-year-old chardonnays under screwcap - testament to this closure I guess.

Corbans Private Bin Marlborough Chardonnay 2001, under cork, was bronze-gold in colour; aldehydic and nutty with a smoky nuance to the bouquet, a smooth texture, a buttery nutty taste and a spicy kick to the end. It reminded me a little of sherry – without the alcoholic punch. But to my palate it was way past its use-by date. It wasn't enjoyable to drink. It reminded me a little of cooking sherry so I though, why tip it down the sink, why not substitute it for sherry in cooking? I decided I would modify my favourite mushroom soup recipe and duly bought some mushrooms for the task. Here are the ingredients and method.

Mushroom and Oxidised Chardonnay Soup for Two


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 small red onion finely chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic finely chopped
  • 250-300 grams of mushrooms - half each of brown flats and button whites
  • 2 cups of oxidised chardonnay
  • A few springs fresh parsley
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • one bay leaf


  • Melt the butter and add the onion and garlic to cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes - they become translucent and start to caramelise
  • Break the mushrooms into pieces and add to the pot. Keep cooking on the low heat for a few minutes more turning the pile of mushrooms occasionally.
  • Add the white wine and herbs
  • Bring to the boil then remove pan from heat and turn the element down, then continue to cook, with the lid on, over a very low heat for about 10 minutes
  • Remove saucepan from element.
  • Remove bay leaf and thyme stalks if you put whole twigs of thyme in - but leave the little leaves in.
  • Blend with a stick mixer
  • Add 1/2-cup of full cream
  • Reheat and serve immediately.
  • Season to taste - my fennel salt was AMAZING and the pepper added a little heat.
  • Serves two as a very elegant starter Yum. Yum. Yum.

The acidity in the wine and the sweetness of the mushrooms create harmony in this superb soup and the fennel in the salt (I add whole fennel seeds to my rock salt grinder) adds piquancy and punch. This turned out to be a soup I would expect to be served in a top class restaurant. And a small glass of the remaining oxidised chardonnay as an accompaniment to the soup turned out to be the most unreal match. We did try a viognier - too floral and fruity, and a pinot noir where the savouriness of the wine complemented the herbs in the soup but overall the soup was a little sweet for the wine and overpowered the finish. The oxidised chardonnay was best and there you go, who would have thought I would enjoy bad wine!

So next time you open an oxidised chardonnay, don’t just tip it down the sink, see what you can make out of it. And if you do make mushroom soup and serve a tipple of the wine as an accompaniment, don’t tell anyone it's oxidised chardonnay – make up a story about 'faux' sherry.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 27th 2012

Heart warming Fine Old Muscat on a wintry cold day

Muscat/Moscato - is there a difference when it comes to wine? Yes there is.

I think of Moscato as fresh and thirst quenching - I love these lower alcohol white wine styles in summer, slight fizzy and served well chilled, so perfect for a refreshing drink when you get home from work on a hot summer's day and want to relax on the deck before thinking about cooking dinner. I tasted Peter Lehmann Art Series Moscato 2011 a couple of weeks ago - it was delicious but I really did look forward to something a little more warming at this time of the year - midwinter in New Zealand.

This is the time of year when fortified Muscat comes into its own. I always think of these wines as tasting like liquid toffee, or Christmas cake in a glass –and it really suits those rich fruit cake and Christmas pudding style of foods, so, if you are thinking of a midwinter Xmas Party, this style of wine is perfect to accompany the Christmas Pud or to finish off the evening.

bullerfineold.jpg (14218 bytes)And so I've chosen Buller Fine Old Muscat from Victoria, Australia, to review on Radio Live today. RRP is $34.95 for a 750-ml bottle, which is adorned with Trophy and gold medal stickers. In the clear bottle and in the glass it is kind of a translucent orange-amber colour. The bouquet is like toffee and muscatels with orange peel, honey and fruitcake - tempting and inviting. Then in the mouth the texture is like smooth runny honey - cosy and mouthcoating. The taste is like liquid toffee, muscatel raisins and sticky date pudding with the vibrancy of citrus zest and while sweet, there's a balancing bittersweet note with the heat of the 18% alcohol kicking in at the end.

It's made from Muscat Hamburg (also called Black Muscat) and Muscat à Petit Grains Rouge (also called Brown Muscat). It's a blend of 90% Swan Hill and 10% Rutherglen region grapes.

Because it is a high alcohol, fortified wine, much of what you pay goes to the government in excise tax. Do you remember the excise tax hikes in May 2003 that more than halved the production of fortified wines in New Zealand that year? And the industry still hasn't recovered. But the excise also affects the ports, sherries and muscats that are imported here. So the wines are not cheap.

But a little in your glass goes a long way and as alcohol is perceived as heat, these wines make you feel warm. The alcohol that fortifies the wine also preserves the wine, so once opened, it doesn't go off. Have a little tipple, reseal the bottle (the Buller has a screwcap) and pop it into your cupboard to enjoy over several days, weeks or months. That's what I'll be doing - it will be re-opened in the weekend to accompany a creme brulee.

How Muscat is made

  • Grapes are left on the vine until they start to shrivel into raisins
  • They're picked, crushed and left in the vat for a few days to rehydrate
  • Yeast is added and the juice pumped over the skins for a short while - this is critical for extracting skin-bound aromas and flavours into the juice
  • Once 1-2% alcohol is reached, the fermenting juice is pressed from the skins and it is immediately fortified with a brandy spirit to bring the alcohol up to around 18% by volume.
  • The new wine is added to the solera of old French oak barriques.

Think of solera as a little bit like reproduction. Every time you add something new you are diluting the old, but there is still some of the old left in there - this is what give humans genetic traits - this is what give solera wines their distinctiveness - there's always that little bit of old in even though the 'average' age of the blend is much younger. In the case of Buller Fine Old Muscat, the average age is 12 to 14 years.

Buller Fine Old Muscat is imported into New Zealand by Kono Beverages (Tohu Wines) It is not available in supermarkets but you'll find it at fine wine stores around the country.

  • Auckland: First Glass Wines and Spirits; Fine Wine Delivery Company and selected Liquorlands across the region.
  • Waikato: Hamilton Wine Company
  • Mount Maunganui: The Mount Wine Barrel
  • Rotorua: Arawa Fine Wines
  • Whangamata: Whangamata Super Liquor
  • Wellington: Regional Wines and Spirits
  • Christchurch: Riccarton Super Liquor
  • Blenheim: Wino’s
  • Nelson: Casa del Vino (there is an in-store tasting of the Fine Old Muscat with the Export Manager of Buller Wines on Saturday July 7th) and Liquorland Nelson

Or buy direct from Kono Beverages. Phone 0800 864 894 in New Zealand.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 26th 2012

Corked wine - making the best out of something bad (2 comments)

We made a decision to drink some of the wines from our cellar instead of tasting just the new releases that arrive on my doorstep for review. There have been some amazing wines tasted, but also wines that disappointed because they were over the hill, oxidised or corked, the latter a rare event these days but still happens on New Zealand wines of the 21st century where screwcaps were not adopted.

Corbans Private Bin Marlborough Chardonnay 2001 - not sure how I acquired this wine. Anyway, the wine was oxidised - aldehydic. It was put side to make soup with, as a substitute for sherry in a sherry and mushroom soup. I will let you know how this goes.

Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2002 was corked. It was such a disappointment as this wine was a ripper in its heyday and we bought several bottles. This was the last and I had fully expected it to last ten years. Unpleasant to drink, it became an experiment to see if boiling wine would remove the TCA. I got this tip from James Millton, of Millton Vineyard, ten years ago. I remember him opening a wine that was corked and he put it aside to cook with, after all it was his wine - he was the end of the supply chain. He added sugar and seasonal fresh herbs and boiled the wine to a reduction that he then used in cooking. I tired this on my next corked wine, a young red, and within minutes of bringing the wine to the boil the room was filled with the aromas of juicy ripe berries. But what was more amazing, the cork taint flavour had disappeared. See my Corked Wine Aversion Therapy story and scroll down to Turning Corked Wine into a tasty Treat. Of course this was looked on with some scepticism from members of online communities that I related the story to. Still, I was a believer.

We kept Neil's glass of corked wine as a reference and the rest went into the saucepan, just on its own, and it was slowly bought to the boil. I took it off the heat after it had simmered for two minutes. Hey, the TCA taint had disappeared. The difference between the original corked sample and the simmered-for-two-minutes sample was remarkable.

How could this happen when the boiling point of the actual TCA molecule is way above the capacity of my stovetop element? Neil reckons the molecule changes as the wine is heated.

"Maybe the little bit of alcohol that is boiled off takes the TCA molecules with it, or reduces it to below a detectable limit," he says. "Although TCA boiling point is higher than water it's not like you have a cupful of TCA in the pot," he adds. And that's right - the threshold for the detection of TCA in wine is just parts per million.

I was pleased to see that other people had experimented in the past few years and some to the same conclusion that boiling TCA tainted wine removes the taint. See this blog post from UK winelover Steve Slatcher at winenous. He was sceptical at first but decided he had nothing to lose because the wine was stuffed anyway!

It's not something I want to do every time I have corked wine, especially wines we bought specifically to cellar and enjoy at a later date. But this repeat of an earlier experiment had to be done. I'll transform the remainder tonight into mulled wine - but as you will see from my previous post I usually use 'cheap wine' to mull.

How much alcohol is evaporated during the cooking process?
Contrary to popular belief, cooking wine for two minutes won't remove all of the alcohol but some alcohol will evaporate into the air. A joint study from the University of Idaho, University of Washington and US Dept of Agriculture confirmed that alcohol is retained in cooking, the amount retained depending on the cooking process. See this page from the University of Alaska's food preparation study course for more detail.


Dear Ms. Courtney,

    My wife and I just finished reading your blog, Vinous Ramblings, about corked wine.  Boiling it was a new one to me.
    A friend, who is a chemical engineer for 3M in Minneapolis, told me that Saran Wrap (a thin plastic film that sticks to itself, used to cover bowls of food) had five layers which was surprising.
    He also told me that the chemical composition of that plastic film was similar to TCA and that a crumpled piece of Saran Wrap put in a glass of corked wine would absorb the TCA and improve the taste of the corked wine.
    We have tried it and found it to work.  I offer it to you as a thing of interest.
Yours truly,
Sandy MacDonald

Dear Sandy,

I haven't tried the Saran wrap trick (probably what we call 'cling film' here). Had heard of it but didn't think of it at the time as boiling had worked before and basically the wine was too stuffed to enjoy with dinner that was already on the table. So I tried boiling the wine thinking if this took the TCA away, we could at least make mulled wine. It's the middle of winter in New Zealand and just the weather for it.
If I get another corked wine (which I hope not) we will give it a go.


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

A whale of a wine to mull over

Today on Radio Live we are tasting Whale Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, a South African wine on special at Progressive Enterprises' supermarkets this week for $6.99 a bottle. I wanted to find the cheapest wine I could to make mulled wine with. I have to say I was a little disappointed that I had to pay as much as $6.99 a bottle - it's a $2 increase on the last time I did this exercise. Mind you, that was six years ago and it's probably a good thing that wine is no longer cheaper than water. Anyway, in the wine department I found the Whale Point wines, the special of the week. What were they like, I wondered? I asked the young man who was stocking the selves in the wine aisle around the corner me from the stack of cheapies at the end.

I approached him and asked, "Are you the wine specialist here? I need help?" I wanted to know which of the two reds to buy: the Cabernet Sauvignon or the Merlot/Shiraz blend that I had in my hand.
The young man suggested I take the Cabernet.
"What does it taste like?" I asked.
"I don't know. I don't drink."
"Oh - so why are your recommending the Cabernet?"
"Because that what most of the customers buy."

So I swapped the Merlot/Shiraz for the Cabernet and came home to make my mulled wine.

But first I tasted the wine - and I was genuinely surprised how palatable it was. Inviting deep crimson black when poured into the glass, it has a bouquet that is a combination of rich berry fruit and sun-baked clay. Initially a little tart in the palate, quite tannic and firm with nugget and boot leather then a burst of blueberry jube flavours and a hint of liquorice. With a plump body and moderate power, I thought that as an easy drinking red to go with a hearty winter stew, this would be ideal. But into the saucepan the wine went instead.

This is today's recipe for Whale Point mulled wine. Take

  • one cup of water
  • half cup of sugar
  • one cinnamon stick,
  • a few whole cloves (3, 4, or 5)
  • some broken off bits from a star of anise ( I love this flavour)
  • three thin slices of lemon (0.30c from the fruit shop today)
  • four thicker slices of orange (picked off my tree today)
  • Place these ingredients into a saucepan, bring to boiling point, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes to infuse the spices.
  • Add the bottle of wine and heat for about 10 minutes, without boiling.

Serve immediately, place it into a thermos for later (this is what I did to take into the Radio Live studio) or let it cool then heat up in the microwave (without letting it boil) for a quick fix when you come in from the cold.

Whale Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 from South Africa's Western Cape area wasn't bad on its own, but this brew added cheer and warmth.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 13th 2012

Affordable Bordeaux

Today, on Radio Live, we are tasting Chateau de Sours Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2009.

This is an unusual wine for Bordeaux as it is 100% Merlot, and has the designation Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée, rather than the area it comes from. The vineyard is on limestone in the Entre-deux-Mers – adjacent to the respected Pomerol and Saint- Émillion appellations.

It's a lovely red that delivers quality way above what you would expect at this price point ($26 - $34) for Bordeaux. A quick tasting of this rich, bright liquid, about an hour before leaving for the studio had upfront plummy fruit concentration, firm tannins (so I decanted the wine) and lovely cedar, sandalwood, cigar box nuances.

We are matching it to Brie today, on recommendation of the agents, Vintners New Zealand.

What does Grand vin de Bordeaux mean? It means this is the main wine produced from this Chateau, as opposed to a second wine.

Chateau de Sours has been producing wine for over 200 years but a number of changes in those years. Today it is owned by an Englishman, Martin Krajewski, who has been involved with Chateau de Sours since 1997 and owner since 2004. Head of winemaking is a woman, Valerie Valmy, and this was her first vintage with the Chateau. The vines are about 40 years old.

Find out more from

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 6th 2012

Serious Merlot at an affordable price

Merlot really didn't deserve the rubbing it got in the 2004 film Sideways and who knows why? But the phrase that lead character Miles uttered to his buddy before their 'double date' has become one of the most famous in wine film history. "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f***ng Merlot!" Miles exclaimed.

It was a great line for the promotion of Pinot Noir, the wine most focussed on in the film, but not so good for USA Merlot producers who saw a definite decline in sales for a while. We'll never know what Miles didn't like about Merlot - it could be simply the fact that it was largely responsible for the US wine boom. And I always thought how ironic it was that later in the movie, on McDonald's, that Miles surreptitiously drinks Cheval Blanc (an expensive Bordeaux blend with Merlot) out of a paper cup.

The decline in sales of Merlot here in New Zealand was not so apparent perhaps because much of the Merlot goes into Cabernet blends to add mid palate softness. Cabernet Merlot was much preferred for a long time - hey, I even thought  this was a grape variety in my early drinking days

Most of the Merlot produced in New Zealand is grown in Hawkes Bay and there are some very fine, although quite high priced examples. So it was rather exciting to discover this little beauty to feature on my wine chat on Radio Live this week.

The brilliant and dense crimson/blackcurrant red-coloured Cypress Hawkes Bay Merlot 2010 is serious merlot at an affordable price. The bouquet is deep and fruity, firstly of plums and fruitcake and later lovely French oak with a spicy, cedary complexity that is quite alluring. A few months ago, when I last tasted this wine, the tannins were upfront and firm but they are now nicely resolving into the succulent fruit - classic plums with a touch of cherry - and there is characteristic chocolate and leather. There's an underlying seam of acidity that hints of the wine's longevity. This was really begging for some cheddar to cut through the firm dry end and what could be a better accompaniment for the main course than lamb.

Grown by Gus and Mel Lawson on both their hillside vineyard and the one on the gravels at the foot of Roy's Hill, the wine has been skilfully crafted by maestro, Rod McDonald.

This vintage won a gold medal at the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show and the previous vintage, the 2009, was a five star wine and Best Buy in Cuisine in September 2011, so Cypress Wines is showing some consistency with this varietal.

It costs from $19 to about $22 - $21 a bottle at But you'll find stock is scattered throughout the country, mainly in Liquor King stores and smaller fine wine retailers , for example First Glass in Takapuna has it on special for $19.

Previous Entries
Following Entries
Complete Blog Archive home

copyright Sue Courtney 2012