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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: November / December 2012
Dec 31st: Riesling to the occasion - Part 3: Rippon, Dry River, Pegasus Bay, Rockburn
Dec 21st: Riesling to the occasion - Part 2: Auburn
Dec 20th: Riesling to the occasion - Part 1: West Brook
Dec 13th: Mahurangi River's 2010 vintage excels
Nov 26th: Alexandra pinots have the x-factor
Nov 18th: AirNZ Wine Awards and some stats from the past few years
Nov 12th: Diversity at instore wine tastings
Nov 8th: An obscure variety or two
Older Entries

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

Riesling to the occasion - Part 3: Rippon, Dry River, Pegasus Bay, Rockburn

If you have read Part 1 (Dec 20) and Part 2 (Dec 21), you will know these articles are about showcasing the diverse styles of Riesling that New Zealand produces. As explained in Part 1, this was for a visiting Riesling devotee, John Trombley. This final in this series of includes some of the greatest names.

riesling tasting.jpg (146220 bytes)
Riesling lovers around the table: James, Anto, Barbara, John, Sue & Aaron

Rippon Vineyard

Rippon, on the western shore of the southern-most arm of Lake Wanaka, is surrounded by water and mountains with Mt Roy as a backdrop. With grapes first planted in 1974, and the first vineyard to be planted on the shores of a southern lake, it has been acclaimed by many as one of the most beautiful in New Zealand. On entering the property, the eye is drawn over the grapevines to Ruby Island, just off shore, and across the lake to the snow-capped Southern Alps in the distant north. This vista has even featured on a standard issue postage stamp.

Very early on Riesling was recognised as being one of the ideal grapes for the site and now two Rieslings are made: Rippon Riesling from the old vines where roots have pervaded the schist rock, and the Jeunesse from the younger vines. The vineyard is farmed organically in adherence to biodynamic principles and fermentation is a result of the indigenous yeasts of the winery.

Three of the old vine Rieslings were presented for a mini vertical. All were a similar lemon gold in colour and all were bottled under Diam cork closures. I don't have the stats for the wines, but they are generally moderate alcohol, moderate levels of residual sugar, and low pH.

Rippon Lake Wanaka Central Otago Riesling 2009
The bouquet is an abundance of yellow fruit, most prominently heritage apples (to me particularly reminiscent of yellow skin windfall apples I once ate in Nelson - the nickname of these apples was 'Yum'). Mealy nuances from the wild ferment add complexity to the bouquet. The palate comes to life with baked apple, tropical guavas and peach nectar. It's a fat, fleshy, exotic tasting wine with a biscuity nuance and well-balanced citrussy undertones.

Rippon Lake Wanaka Central Otago Riesling 2010
A little more restrained on the bouquet than the 2009, with fusel (kero) notes detected, but lively and intense in the palate with tropical fruit that's quite fascinating, like a passionfruit citrus marmalade jam. Fresh lively acid balances the fruit. I like the freshness and exuberance, the richness without being overpowering, and the toastiness to the finish.

Rippon Lake Wanaka Central Otago Riesling 2011
This immediately seems sweeter, honeyed, toffeed ... and even though others said they detected a touch of volatile acidity emanating from the glass, this was not a trait apparent to me. It's juicy and lively with a vibrant acid backbone, smoke, potter's clay, and penetrating richness and depth. A promising young wine begging for a little more time. This is the current release. Winery price is $32.50 a bottle.

* * * * *

Dry River

When you think of the great names in New Zealand wine, Dry River is definitely one of them. Often talked about, rarely seen, it's a great occasion when someone brings Dry River to a tasting. The wines are made to age and in particular, the Rieslings. The wines are bottled in distinctive tall bottles under natural cork.

Dry River 'Craighall' Martinborough Riesling 2009
Golden in colour with the scent of baking biscuits, there's rich lemon and green apple intensity to the palate with underlying spritzy vibrancy. Already developing some turpene notes, a discussion ensued about the development of this wine and the development of the 2009 vintage in general. But the acidity is fresh and assertive and I think this is a wine that will continue to evolve for a long time.

Dry River 'Craighall' Martinborough Riesling 2010 (Amaranth)
Distinctively more golden in hue than the others in this flight (Rippon and the Dry River 2009) and one sniff told the reason why. The wine was corked.

* * * * *

Pegasus Bay

A Riesling tasting of the great New Zealand Riesling producers just has to include Pegasus Bay, and for this tasting, to showcase the diverse styles being produced, I selected the Bel Canto. A recent addition to the Pegasus Bay range, the first Bel Canto was produced in 2008. It's different because some botrytis-affected grapes are included in the harvest selection, a portion of the juice is fermented in old barrels by the action of wild yeast and the resulting wine at 14% alcohol by volume, is one of the higher alcohol Rieslings you will find. And despite the botrytis, it gives the impression of being fairly dry.

Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling 2010
This concentrated, full-bodied, heady wine is one of the richest NZ Rieslings I've tasted. It's quite yellow in colour; the bouquet emanates spice, preserved lemon peel and nectar-filled blossoms, and there is a lively citrus theme running through the palate. Typical of the Pegasus Bay Rieslings, there is also the characteristic spritz from a small amount of retained CO2. A lovely, rich, intense wine with an infusion of anise-like herbs and a clean marmalade finish. Lots of intriguing sweet/sour effects. I like this wine immensely, yet it was polarising at the tasting with the winemakers present talking about complex sulphides and matchstick! John Trombley said it reminded him of some mid-Rheinfalz Rieslings.

* * * * *


The final wine in this flight is from Rockburn Wines, the producer of one of Central Otago's most drinkable Pinot Noirs, but under the craftsmanship of winemaker Malcolm Francis the Riesling is evolving as an emerging star. I was particularly keen to showcase this wine alongside the West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2011 (see Part 1), as both were recent Air New Zealand Wine Award gold medal winners and at the gold medal tasting I attended, in November, these two wines, plus the Mount Maude East Block Central Otago Riesling 2012 were my personal favourites. All three were entered as 'exhibition' wines, so none were eligible for the Riesling Trophy.

Rockburn Tigermoth Central Otago Riesling 2011
This is delicate in comparison to Bel Canto, but the delicacy is the key to it's purity. It's textural with a light viscosity and while there are toasty nuances already, the apple/lime/lemon is penetrating and assertive. An off dry wine with a crisp undercurrent to balance the juicy sweetness (41 g/l rs), and a hint of marmalade on the finish. With just 9% alcohol by volume,this is a lovely wine to drink and enjoy immediately, yet also promises increasing complexity with time in the bottle.

As explained in Part 1, we ran out of time to pour the final flight, a group of oldies, including a Neudorf 2001 under screwcap and Felton Road Block 1. Something to look forward to next time, next year ....

And that's it from me in 2012. Happy New Year!

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

Riesling to the occasion - Part 2: Auburn

When I heard from John Trombley about his impending visit (see previous post Dec 20th 2012), a wine lover known around Internet circles as Riesling Rat and SweetStuff, I knew that I had to show him the Rieslings from Auburn because they are the producers I consider to be most passionate about Riesling, so passionate that Riesling is all they produce.

co-subregions.jpg (20858 bytes)Based in Central Otago, the Pinot Noir capital of New Zealand, Riesling rules for Auburn Wines.

They take grapes from several subregions and in 2011, the vintage I had, the four subregions were Alexandra, Bannockburn, Bendigo and Lowburn, highlighted on the image (right) I borrowed from Auburn Wines.

It was lucky for me - and the Riesling Rat - that I had them. They were samples sent to me but for various reasons (that we won't go into here) I had not had a chance to taste them. Having tasted the previous two vintages from Auburn, I was excited to be opening these at last. I was anticipating good comments from John, and it turned out I wasn't wrong, and for those of us at the tasting it was also a wonderful insight into the intracies of this noble grape and to hear what John had to say.

But first the wines were tasted silently, in the order that follows because that is the order I had put them on the table. An alphabetical order of region, but fantastically the absolute right order to taste. The wines had been taken from the refrigerator on leaving home and had stayed well chilled in the padded wine bags. In fact, the temperature was near perfect for tasting these wines.

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Auburn Alexandra Central Otago Riesling 2011
Made from 11-year-old vines grown in the most southerly subregion of Central Otago, this smells dry with lime and hints of honeysuckle. It's lightly spritzy in the palate and tastes fresh and bright with mandarin/lemon squash acidity. The racy freshness has an underlying richness and the wine increases in complexity in the mouth, reminding me of lemon cream biscuits (the ones with the salty wafer biscuit outside and tangy lemon cream filling). The fruit enriches as the wine sits in the glass, there's apple purity and loquats, and the sweetness becomes more apparent too. A delightful Riesling, comparable to a German Kabinett.
9.5% alc. 15g/l RS. 3.04 pH. 6.5g/l TA.
Riesling Taste Profile (RTP): Medium sweet.

Auburn Bannockburn Central Otago Riesling 2011
This wine is made from 13 year old vines and in comparison to the Alexandra wine, this smells earthy - like wet clay being worked on a potter's wheel. The taste is fresh, bright and spritzy with limes and floral notes too with underlying sweet earthy notes and racy acidity, the light viscosity of the texture coats the tongue as the wine lingers.
10.5% alc. 47g/l RS. 2.9 pH. 8g/l TA. RTP: Sweet.

Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2011
Made from 6-year-old vines, the bouquet of this wine is a clean and delicate with nuances of juicy crushed grapes, nectar and herb flowers. There's a startling clarity to the taste, characterised by a spritzy texture at first, but lightly viscous on the finish. It is easily the most forward and easy drinking so far - perhaps it is the higher sugar making the acidity seem so poised and harmonious. It has intensity, length and increasing weight and the lasting flavours is like apples coated with a floral honey. If I had just one word to describe this wine, it would be 'sensational'.
10% alc. 64g/l RS. 2.88 pH. 8.3g/l TA. RTP: Medium sweet.

Auburn Lowburn Central Otago Riesling 2011
Made from 18 year old vines with 25% botrytis infection, this has a slightly more golden hue. Honeysuckle florals emanate from the glass and the texture in the mouth is luxurious and unctuous. The taste is reminiscent of the smell of potter's clay with wild flower nectar, yellow fruits and honey, Botrytis enhances the palate fleshiness and there are hints of marmalade on the finish. A wine that is utterly dangerous because it is just so delicious to drink.
11.5% alc. 48g/l RS. 3 pH. 8.9g/l TA. RTP: Sweet.


An interesting discussion about apples, put forward by RieslingRat, ensued.

"Apple is a rare palate element in Riesling," he says. He gets excited when he tastes apple in Riesling and expalins that it is not a malic taste - it is a fresh apple taste.

I'm excited too because I often taste different types of apples in Riesling. I recount the story of mentioning apple to one producer, who thought apple was a bad descriptor and looked at me as though I was mad! Well there is a difference between fresh apple and rotten apple, and I was talking about fresh.

"Fresh apples are rare in the USA," says John, adding, "There is a complex play with apple notes, between apples and redcurrants, and smoky and mineral elements - each one has a different expression of 'The Trinity'." And he suggested a link with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc!

As for turpenes, he says, "Turpenes are important, especially in Riesling. If it can balance out it can add something, but if not it can be a problem."

"An extremely interesting group of wines," he says.

I hope the folks at Auburn will forgive me in taking so long to taste their 'samples', but what an opportunity these wines provided. The bottom line of approval came when John asked if they were at all available in the USA.


A follow-up tasting came six days later, this was the first chance I had had to look at the leftovers. These were chilled, because that is the way I like to drink this style of Riesling.

Auburn Alexandra Central Otago Riesling 2011
6 days after opening: Fresh and exciting when chilled, with underlying lemon purity and beautifully balanced sweetness. Delicate yet assertive with tang.

Auburn Bannockburn Central Otago Riesling 2011
6 days after opening: In comparison to the Alex, this has concentration and more obvious sweetness even when chilled. There are smoky nuances to the scent and yes, I get the redcurrant nuances that John was talking about. A lolly sweet layer to the finish just slightly detracts.

Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2011
6 days after opening: There's purity of fruit to the scent - tending towards tropical. Crisp, fresh with a lively zesty underlay. Apple, lemonade, a touch of honey and great persistence of length with vibrancy of lime on the finish. Residual sugar imparts viscosity and concentration. A bright shining star.

Auburn Lowburn Central Otago Riesling 2011
6 days after opening: A harmonious balance of crisp, fresh, juicy fruit and residual sweetness with the 25% botrytis adding the swoon factor. There's a delightful smoky nuance too.

These wines were available on release for $28 a bottle (plus freight). I've just added myself to the mailing list, because evidently the 2012 vintage is out - and selling fast! Check it out at

Fantastic wines that all serious Riesling fans should try. The only negative thing at all is the weight of the bottles. They feel like should be full, when in fact they are empty!

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

Riesling to the occasion - Part 1: West Brook

Riesling lover John Trombley, from Ohio (and before that, Detroit), emailed me a few months ago to say he and his wife Barbara would be in Auckland for a few hours and could we possibly meet? John and I had been regular wine communicators during the early part of this century. We mused about geology, about rocks in the vineyard, about the word 'minerality' as a wine descriptor and he taught me about AP numbers on German Rieslings.

Fortunately the ship they were cruising in on was arriving on a Saturday. A weekend day. Hurray! I didn't want to meet a cruise ship at Princes Wharf in downtown Auckland on a business day, especially as the tour itinerary I was mentally planning would have to be constrained.

I would have to find somewhere to open a bottle of Riesling. No suitable BYO lunchtime cafes, so a picnic in wine country would be ideal. Perhaps in the grounds of West Brook. Riesling is not grown here (Auckland is too warm, too humid) but juice comes to some of the wineries and award winning Rieslings are crafted here - most notably at West Brook under the orchestration of Riesling afficianado, James Rowan.

My one wine turned into four, then six, and the addition of a few iconic oldies thrown in swelled my numbers to eleven. This was more than a picnic. It was a full on tasting.

"Please James, could we hold the tasting at the West Brook winery. I will bring all the wines and do invite a couple of others. " And the snowball effect continued.

"We'll do a vertical of West Brook Rieslings!" I could feel the excitement and vibe that James was emanating - and this was from his email. John & Neil @ gannet colony

Thank goodness our stop at Muriwai, to view awesome pillow lava geology and wild surf at Maori Bay, the gannet colony where baby chicks had just hatched (behind John and Neil in the picture) and, as a bonus, an idiot on Fisherman's Rock risking his life as the swell washed over where he was casting his rod in, was on the way to West Brook. Thank goodness I had packed that picnic lunch to enjoy in West Brook's beautiful grounds because, with Riesling mania taking over, everything else on my carefully planned itinerary (Arataki, Maungakiekie, Tamaki Drive) had to be abandoned in order to get John and Barbara back to the ship by re-embarkation deadline.

With my box of 11 wines, a vertical of West Brook's finest, and other mini verticals appearing on the day, it was patently obvious, even before we sat down, that we would run over time. In fact my iconic oldies are now earmarked to taste with James another time.

And so the tasting began ....

James pouring the West Brook 2012James couldn't stop smiling as he poured the West Brook vertical   - the oldest the 2002, which was the first to be bottled under screwcap, and the youngest the 2012, which is not yet released. In fact James couldn't stop smiling all day. "Riesling is my muse," he says.

All of the wines were made from grapes harvested from the same two or three vineyards in Marlborough. Machine harvested and crushed at a winery close to the vineyards, the juice is transferred to refrigerated tanks (reefers) for the train journey to Auckland, then trucked for the last few kilometres to the winery. I was out at West Brook one time when the reefer arrived. A joyous day!

The tasting was an evolution of vine maturity, wine maturity and winemaking maturity. Look at the numbers after each brief tasting note (key at the bottom of this blog entry) and you will see how the style has changed over the years.

These are my notes, with Neil's (@winepour) added (NC) and a couple of poignant comments from John Trombley (JT).

Most of the wines quite golden except for the most youthful, especially the 2012 which was a pale straw.

"As New Zealand Riesling ages, it tends to go down a toasty path, like butter on toast," James explains. And yes, that was quite apparent. In fact that buttery character is intriguing.

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2002
Deep gold. Lovely lime and lemon butter aromatics. Quite toasty palate. Great depth of richness on finish with honey notes lingering. Acidity still lively and refreshing. An intriguing smokiness too.
NC: Bright golden bronzy. Marmalade and spice on the nose. More marmalade with bitter orange in palate.
12.5% alc, 9.8 g/l RS, TA 6.7 g/l (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2003
Toasty nuances on nose and in palate, the underlying acidity still fresh. Butter layers with a touch of grapefruit, Becoming richer and more complex in the glass.
NC: Deep golden yellow, touch of honey on nose, rich citrus peel and apples in palate.
13% alc. 9.8 g/l RS, TA 7.9 g/l (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2004
More honeysuckle here and a butteriness that's tending towards caramel, but the lively acidity balances it beautifully and there's a peppery spiciness invigorating the finish.
NC: Golden yellow, lemon honey nose. Tangelo in palate. Juicy. Good finish.
12.5% alc. 16 g/l RS, pH 2.98, TA 7.2 g/l  (RTP: Medium Sweet)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2005
A little more earthy (potter's clay), with an exotic spiciness coming through, a touch of lime marmalade, juicy finish.
NC: Golden yellow. Lemon nose. Tangy, rich and juicy with oranges and limes.
12% alc. 11 g/l RS, pH 3.05, TA 7.1 g/l  (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2006
From a cool year, this is still focussed and tight, showing more clarity than the preceding wines. It has an earthy depth and great flavour concentration of classic lemon and limes. This is the first one that James had much involvement with and it went on to win the Champion Riesling Trophy at the AirNZ Wine Awards.
NC: Golden yellow. Crisp lemon nose. Lemon juice, some pineapple.
11.6% alc, 8.4 g/l RS, pH 2.94, TA 7.9 g/l (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2007
Bright, fresh and very youthful, there are some lovely honeyed nuances coming through and subtle hints of anise-like herbs. Delightful, fresh, vibrant and juicy with enough toastiness to add complexity. My favourite so far. This would be a very good food wine.
NC: Golden yellow. Orange blossom nose. Rich citrus and honey. Apples.
12.8% alc, 8.5 g/l RS, pH 2.94, TA 6.7 g/l (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2008
Showing more obvious sweetness now but the bright lemon acidity is so fresh and there's that sensuous apple butter layer. So delicate smelling after the 07, but quite beguiling nevertheless. 2008 was a difficult year in Marlborough but this was picked quite early and has a long future ahead of it.
NC: Golden yellow. Honeysuckle nose. Lime marmalade. Juicy.
JT: "Complex florality that I haven't seen in preceding wines"
11.9% alc, 11 g/l RS,  pH 2.82, TA 7.8 g/l (RTP: Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2009
The bouquet of this wine is a little more 'cheesy' in comparison. Earthy (potter's clay) at first, becoming quite bold and toasty with vibrant mandarin acidity, just delightful with its density and concentration. Drinking nicely now.
NC: Yellow gold. Apricot nutty nose. Orange. Zesty and rich. Good length.
12.2% alc, 14 g/l RS, pH 2.92, TA 9.7 g/l (RTP: Medium Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2010
Delicate nose of honeysuckle florals with a hint of apple butter. Quite toasty and fleshy with clean cutting vibrant acidity, it's mouthfilling with concentrated fruit heading towards tropical. Exciting bittersweet ying and yang. Top wine of the tasting.
NC: Yellow gold. Smoky honeysuckle nose. Orange and lime juice. Honey. Yum.
JT: "A wonderful Kabinett style -a shimmery scintillating kaleidoscope. Riesling being what it should be."
10.5% alc, 18 g/l RS, pH 2.7, TA 10 g/l (RTP: Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2011
A gold medal winner at the 2012 Air NZ Wine Awards, this has already developed into something rich and exotically spicy with lovely concentration of tropical fruit sweetness and marmalade bitterness. Exciting and tantalising with great vibrancy and length. I just so want to accompany this with the Xmas ham! And barring accidents, it will happen!
NC: Light yellow gold. Orange blossom nose. Zingy acid and limes.
11.6% alc, 14 g/l RS, pH 2.75, TA 9.4 g/l (RTP: Dry)

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2012
Beautifully fragrant with a bouquet of honeysuckle and citrus. Very fresh, very youthful, with a hint of marmalade and the delicate florals almost reminiscent of rose petals. Lovely balance. Will be interesting to see how this baby evolves.
NC: Honey and honey suckle nose. Orange marmalade in palate.
10% alc, 20 g/l RS, pH 2.7, TA 8.7 g/l   (RTP: Medium Dry)

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The 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages are on sale at the West Brook winery. A mini vertical just waiting. Check out

alc: alcohol by volume
g/l: grams per litre
RS: Residual Sugar
TA: Total Acidity
pH: another measure of acidity - the lower the number, the higher the acid, which is why some of these wines with seemly high residual sugar, actually taste quite dry.
RTP: Riesling Taste Profile as deduced from these numbers and the parameters given on Interestingly, West Brook had a similar scale to the Riesling Taste Profile scale on the back of the 2002 bottle. But it didn't take off and they haven't used it since.

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

Mahurangi River's 2010 vintage excels

Do you live in Auckland? If so, have you been to the Mahurangi River Winery and Restaurant just east of Warkworth? Shame on you if you haven't. It really is a gem of a place to eat good food accompanied with excellent wines. Part of the Matakana Wine Trail, it's somewhere to go to lunch these summer hols, perhaps?

I was up there last week, at the invitation of owner Shelly Trotter and her partner Gary Heaven, to catch up on what they are up to and to meet winemaker Warren Knudsen, whose first vintage with Mahurangi River was 2012. They are pictured to the right (Gary, Shelly, Warren) with the restaurant on the hill top behind them.

A bottle of the Field of Grace Chardonnay 2010 and Matakana Syrah 2009 were put on the table and when asked what I would like a glass of, I chose the white. Yum. Chardonnay the way I like it.

Chef Kahui Cassidy has put together a superb menu to complement not only Mahurangi River's wines, but others from the region and further afield, but when the fish of day was described as fresh snapper on a citrus risotto, I couldn't resist. Neil, who had a glass of the Syrah, chose rabbit. "It was good," he said.

My story on Mahurangi River and the emerging grape varieties they are growing, specifically Albarino and Roussanne, is in the Rodney Times, 13 December 2012. So check out that story at the Rodney Times e-edition.

But there is never enough room in the paper to put my 'as I tasted them' reviews. So they are here.

Mahurangi River Field of Grace Chardonnay 2010
If you like rich, golden-coloured, lavish-tasting Chardonnay, it is hard to resist this beauty. There are nuances of butterscotch and caramel over an oatmeal biscuit backbone with ripe tropical and stonefruit adding to the allure. It's big, luscious and soft with a smooth seamless delivery and takes chilling well - perfect for the summer, I say. The citrus risotto and snapper was an outstanding accompaniment for this wine. So have some of this chardonnay in the fridge ready for when you bring that snapper home from a day's fishing out on the beautiful Hauraki Gulf.  Another fantastic example of how well Chardonnay grows in Auckland and Northland when conditions are right, the label says 14.5% alcohol and $39 is the cellar door price.

As well as Chardonnay, 2010 was outstanding for reds in Matakana and Mahurangi River produced three from their estate grown fruit. We tasted these as a trio at home and matched them to juicy tender scotch fillet steak cooked on the BBQ  to a 'rare side of medium rare' and accompanied with whole mushrooms sizzled in butter then braised in a little of the merlot and star anise.

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Mahurangi River Mostly Merlot 2010
14.5% alc. $39.
A blend of mostly Merlot and a little Cabernet Sauvignon aged in French oak, 5% new, for 12 months, this is the lightest in colour of the three. It's medium dark red, not totally opaque; the bouquet is leather, cedar, cake spice and plums and it is medium to full bodied in palate weight with firm velvety tannins, ripe cassis and plum fruit with allspice, an ethereal nuance of anise (hence the idea to use some anise in the mushroom accompaniment), and a tingle of freshness. There's mouthfilling juiciness to the plush textured, smoky finish with cherry chocolate lingering the background. Lots of interest and satisfaction here and an outstanding match with the steak and mushroom combo.

Mahurangi River Matakana Syrah 2010
14.5% alc. $45.
Matured in French oak, 50% new, for just 5 months, this dense meaty wine is infused with allspice, liquorice, chicory and cassis with a savoury mid palate and brightness to the finish. It's a youthful saturated purple red colour with vanilla nuances, concentrated black cherries and a hint of tar to the scent. In the mouth it is medium to full-bodied with a silk-edged velvety texture that just flows. Mouthcoating and sensual with vanilla, cherry and rose petals lingering deliciously at the end. This was just divine with the steak - the meat bringing out the hallmark peppery traits of the Syrah grape.

Mahurangi River Mainly Malbec 2010
14.2% alc. $39.
A saturated dark crimson red, if you drink with your eyes this will appeal. It seduces with its rich, ripe, cherry, plum and cassis scent that's layered with smoky vanillin oak, intriguing earthy nuances and rose petals too. Everything on the nose carries through to the palate that has lovely fine tannins, or so it seems on first tasting, but the power of the firm, fleshy, full-bodied wine kicks in and the finish is rich and meaty - almost a meal in a glass. A bit of a chameleon however, as the lingering flavours are lifted and bright with rose petals, violets, redcurrants and milk chocolate coming through. Matured for 12 months in French oak, 33% new, with a touch of Merlot in the blend. I have another bottle and it's going to accompany lamb shanks.

There's something quite sexy about Malbec, the red grape of Bordeaux that is most at home in Argentina, but it is doing great things in Matakana too.

The wines are all wild yeast fermented and are all bottled with a Diam closure, although you will see a screwcap on the 2011 Chardonnay (soon to be released) and of course on the Rosé.

More info:

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

Alexandra pinots have the x-factor

Is the price of suitable vineyard land about to go up in what seems to be the most underrated of all Central Otago sub regions? I'm talking about Alexandra, a 25-minute drive south of the region's vinous epicentre, Cromwell. I wouldn't be surprised after some of the enviable feats by three pinot noir producers from there, Grasshopper Rock in particular.

The Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 was acclaimed Champion Pinot Noir at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards at the gala dinner last Saturday night. To be awarded top Pinot Noir from the 21 gold medal winners - all exciting pinot noirs in their own right - is something to be very proud of, but this wine was also recognised as best of the best when it was also awarded the coveted Champion Wine of the Show.

Grasshopper Rock has won medal after medal this year for this 2010 vintage - gold at the Bragato Wine Awards, the only Central Otago Pinot Noir to take gold at the Spiegelau International, gold at the New Zealand International and gold at the Air New Zealand, as well as the two Trophies awarded on Saturday night. The judges for the Christmas issue of Cuisine found the same endearing qualities, awarding it 5 stars and No.1 from 326 pinots entered.

But Grasshopper Rock is no stranger to collecting pieces of metal. Producing only one wine off their pinot noir-focussed vineyard, the 2009 vintage collected gold at Bragato, Hong Kong International and Sydney International; the 2008 won gold at Air New Zealand, IWC and Sydney; and the 2007 won gold at Bragato, Liquorland and the Hong Kong International.

Tasted at the Air New Zealand gold medal tasting on November 14th, Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2010 seduced with it glorious fragrant, smoky and exotically spicy scent. The elegantly silky texture caressed and the black cherry and red fruit flavours were penetrating. A distinctive, stylish and overachieving wine that's going to be pretty hard to buy with these latest results and the $30 steal of a price, but Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2011 has just been released and already boasts a Blue Gold Medal from the Sydney International.

Grasshopper Rock is in Earnscleugh Road, close to the western side of the Clutha River that flows into Alexandra.

Two hundred metres along this road is Sam Neil's Two Paddocks vineyard, 'Alex Paddocks'. It is from here that the elite gold winner, Last Chance by Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2010, was produced. This is a bigger, richer, bolder wine that really is still in its infancy, it seems. The bouquet is fragrant with wild thyme nuances permeating the savoury scent, and in the palate there is more obvious oak and flesh. A lovely mouthful of succulence with a bright spicy vitality and lingering pinot noir deliciousness. Not listed on their website, so possibly not released, the price in my gold medal guide from the tasting is $65 a bottle.

The other gold medal Alexandra pinot, or should I say 'elite gold' as all three were awarded this higher honour, is Judge Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010. From a westerly facing slope on Hillside Road, it is on the easter side of the river and approximately 3 kilometres north-east from Earnscleugh Road as the crow flies.

This wine was one of my favourites of the 21 pinot noirs at the gold medal tasting. A lovely fragrant pinot - perhaps the beguiling fragrances that all three have shown is a trait of the Alexandra subregion - and while there is some obvious oak, it doesn't detract. Silky in texture and more similar to the Grasshopper Rock than the Two Paddocks, it has a sensuous black cherry / chocolate richness and exquisite underlying savoury depth. The tasting booklet lists this at $40 a bottle.

Judge Rock has also seen much success with this 2010 vintage pinot. This years Air New Zealand 'elite gold' follows the gold awarded at the 2011 awards. It also won gold at the Decanter World Wine Awards and the IWSC in the UK, and 5 stars from Cuisine. The 2008 vintage was a Blue Gold winner at the Sydney International; the 2007 won Elite Gold at Air New Zealand; the 2006 won 5 stars in Decanter and Cuisine. It hasn't been entered into other wine shows in New Zealand.

So there you have it. Three top pinot noirs from Alexandra. Grasshopper Rock and Two Paddocks are grown on vineyards very close to each other, while Grasshopper Rock and Judge Rock share winemaker Peter Bartle. Two Paddocks is made by Dean Shaw.

Paul from Judge Rock says Alexandra is a special cool climate area producing elegant wines with sensuousness and persistence. I agree.

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

AirNZ Wine Awards and some stats from the past few years

The gold medal winners from the 2012 Air New Zealand Wine Awards have been announced with 97 gold medals awarded from a total entry of 1367 wines (7 percent). With an additional 183 silver medals and 354 bronze medals, the number of award winning wines numbers 644, just a little under 50 percent. This means a staggering 723 wines, close to 53 percent of the entry, failed to receive a medal. However it should be noted the Air New Zealand Wine Awards has a cut-off of 16 out of 20 points for a wine to be awarded a bronze, whereas other shows will award a bronze medal to a wine that scores 15.5 points. Still it is a staggering fail rate and those wineries with 'no award' wines, must be wondering what they are doing wrong.

airnz-tasting-1.jpg (62533 bytes)But awards are all about the winners, not the also-rans, especially as we do not know who the also-rans are.

I was invited to a tasting of all 97 gold medal winners when the awards were anounced on Wednesday 14th. Pictured (right) is Michael Brajkovich MW, Chairman of Judges, capturing the attention of some of the tasters.   There were some truly glorious wines, particularly pinot noir. Check out all the list of gold medal winners here.

The trophies have not been announced yet, but already the big winner is the Villa Maria Group with 20 gold medals for the Villa Maria brand, two for the Esk brand and four for the Vidal brand - a staggering 26 of the 97 gold medals awarded for the Villa Maria Group across nine classes. Yes, they certainly do live up to their claim, 'New Zealand’s most awarded winery. In addition, for the fifth year in a row, Villa Maria dominated the Chardonnay class, this year with eight Villa Maria wines and two Vidal wines among the 15 golds. Look at Villa Maria’s extraordinary and increasing Chardonnay dominance over the past 7 years:

2012 8 of 15 (plus 2 Vidal)
2011 6 of 10 (plus 1 Vidal)
2010 8 of 14
2009 8 of 18
2008 4 of 15 (plus 1 Vidal)
2007 1 of 11 (plus 2 Vidal)
2006 1 of 15

Mention should also be made of Lawson's Dry Hills with four gold medals and Saint Clair with three, while Ara, Coopers Creek, Gibbston Valley, Matua Valley, Mud House, Rockburn, Stoneleigh, Trinity Hills, Waimea, Wooing Tree and Yealands each won two golds in this year's show.

Pinot Noir was the star variety with 21 gold medals awarded; ten to Marlborough wines, the remainder to Otago.

By my calculation, 57 of the 97 gold medal wines have never won gold in a New Zealand wine show before. This could be because some wineries choose only to enter the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, or a wine may have garnered more complexity with time in the bottle. Of course it is important to remember that judges are human and one judge may score a wine differently to the next and one show to the next.

However there are wines that are consistent performers in New Zealand wine shows, not least Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2010 with its 4th gold medal from the four shows entered since its release, plus No.1 in Cuisine just recently. That’s an amazing and almost unrivalled performance. Other wines to increase their gold medal tally since August were:

Ara Single Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - 4 golds
Coopers Creek Single Vineyard Gisborne Albarino 2012 'Bell Ringer' - 4 golds
Maude ‘Mt Maude Vineyard’ East Block Riesling 20120 - 3 golds
The Kings Favour Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - 3 golds
Plus of course several Villa Maria wines, which have a remarkable performance over several years.

Check out my latest gold medal summary at

Now for some Air New Zealand Wine Awards total entry and gold medal statistics from over the past several years.

Year  Total Golds Pinot Sauv Chard Pinot Riesling Syrah
      Entry       Noir  Blanc       Gris

2012  1367   92    21    17     15    7      9      8
2011  1489   83    17    14     10    7      8      3
2010  1579  107    32    14     14    7     12      7
2009  1655  102    19    13     18    3     10     10
2008  1751   91    21    13     15    6     11      8
2007  1540   83    16    16     11    2      9      7
2006  1737   89    15    19     15    6      9      4

I wonder why the entry is decreasing when the number of wineries are in fact increasing. The winning of a medal is a wonderful marketing opportunity, after all.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my summary. If you have, please tweet. 

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

Diversity at instore wine tastings

On the back of the obscure varieties tasting, see previous post, I head to First Glass Wine ad Spirits' weekly tasting and first up another variety I had never heard of. Grillo. It was the dominant component in the Cavallini Grillo Pinot Grigio 2011 from Sicily, where the grape is widely grown. This is a very tasty wine, lemon in hue, a hint of toasted nuts on the nose with nuances of pear, and rich and textural in the palate with tropical fruit and apple strudel spices and a crisp, zesty finish with a juicy infusion of mandarin. I think it would be quite popular with Pinot Gris drinkers. FG are selling it for $17.99.

The other most interesting wine at the tasting was Ridge Geyserville 2010 from Sonoma in  California. It has a deep purple red colour, a ripe currant and smoky vanillin oak scent and ultra-ripe plum and berry fruit flavours with a cigar box smokiness, a savoury undercurrent and peppery spice. Firm yet succulent throughout with a velvety mouthfeel and a fantastically long finish, the Ridge website says it is made from predominantly Zinfandel (64%) with 20% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 2% Mataro (Mourvedre). FG price is $68.99. Phew!

See all my reviews from this tasting on my November Wednesday Roundup page.

I've also posted my notes for the October tastings - five weeks of them. Obscure varieties featured too, most notably the Church Road McDonald Series Marzemino 2009. Marzemino is most well known in Trentino in northern Italy, and is lauded for being mentioned in the opera, Don Giovanni, but these grapes were grown in Hawkes Bay. It's an intense black red colour, has a succulent red fruit bouquet and presents quite powerfully in the palate with slightly furry tannins, hints of chocolate and masses of juicy ripe red fruit and while the fruit is sweet, the harmonious finish is savoury and dry. FG price is $28.99.

Other highlights included:

Schoffit Cuvee Caroline Alsace Pinot Gris 2009
A medium sweet wine with a a delicately floral scent, a gorgeous smooth texture, pristine flavours of spiced pear with hints of apricot and a warm, luscious finish. $36.99.

Reischgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2006 - Mosel, Germany
An outstanding wine with a tantalising bouquet of honeysuckle, jasmine and citrus blossoms and vibrantly fresh, juicy flavours. Fabulous acidity with perfectly balanced sweetness. My kind of decadent treat. $43.99.

Millars Vineyard Mangawhai Syrah 2010
Tasted blind, this was the big surprise on the night to just about every taster in the room. Enticing deep violet red hue and a black cherry and chocolate scent that carries through to the palate to join concentrated flavours of plum and smooth underpinned with creamy vanillin oak and black pepper emerging with a stylish flourish on the finish. Yum! Gold NZIWS. $30.99 special.

The previous week the top Pinot Noirs from Cuisine magazine were tasted and the No.1 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Pinot Noir 2010, from the Alexandra sub-region of Central Otago really stood out. But I could see how the No. 2, Tatty Bogler Pinot Noir 2010 from Waitaki, and the No. 4, Valli Bendigo Pinot Noir 2010 from Central Otago, gave the Grasshopper a run for its money. Tatty Bogler was velvety, juicy and ripe while the Valli had a funky, sexy allure. I loved all three and would happily accept a glass of any if it was poured, but I think it was the silky elegance of the Grasshopper that gave it the judge's nod for the No.1 spot. Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2010 has wine has an amazing track record since its release mid year - gold at the NZ International, gold at the Bragato Wine Awards, gold at the Spiegelau International, No.1 in Cuisine in a record tasting of 325 pinot noirs, and 5 star ratings from just about everyone else. Check out to find out where you can now buy.

The previous two weeks were mostly gold medal winners from the New Zealand International Wine Show. Oh, there was a newly released Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay too. Click here to see all my October reviews.

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

An obscure variety or two

What do Osteiner, Cano Blanco, Pecorino, Rebula, Gringet, Petite Arvine, Jampal, Savagnin, Taminga, Alfrocheiro Preto, Babic, Cabernet Genischt, Bobal, Fumin and Teroldego have in common? Anyone who knows their obscure wine grapes will recognise that most of the names are indeed obscure wine grapes. But the commonality is that wines from these grapes were represented at a special tasting of obscure grape varieties held in Auckland last night.

The catalyst for the tasting was Julia Harding MW from the UK. Julia has been in Auckland to judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, just completed. But more importantly, Julia is one of the co-authors, along with Jancis Robinson MW and grape geneticist José Vouillamoz, of the brand new tome, Wine Grapes, A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties including their origins and flavours.

A number of wine writers were invited to the tasting, with the premise they bring along a bottle of obscure wine. Whoever brought along the best quality / rarest wine would win a copy of the book that Julia had arranged to be shipped out to New Zealand. Sadly that was not me.

The wines at the tasting, with my brief notes in the order tasted, were as follows. If the grape variety is in the wine's name, it is underlined.


Rippon Vineyards Osteiner 2010 - Central Otago, NZ
Just 1-ha in New Zealand, and 1-ha in Germany, makes Osteiner very rare indeed. This light bodied wine is floral, fresh and fruity with lively acidity when chilled.

Bodegas Terras Gauda La Mar 2009 - Rias Baixas Spain
Golden coloured with a smoky aroma, this aromatic wine has lovely concentration and tropical fruit freshness, a toasted lime and coconut allure and an earthy, flinty undercurrent. Made from 85% Caino Blanco, 10% Albarino and 5% Loureiro, this was one of my favourites and a deserving book winner.

Saladini Pilastri Pecorino 2011 – Offida, Italy
A little wet wool / lanolin nuance to the bouquet, concentrated bright palate with a full-bodied finish, reminiscent of a good, textural Pinot Gris but with fresh salivating salinity.

Rebula 2000 Slovenia   
Made from 100% Rebula, this clear amber gold-coloured wine seemed oxidised and past it to me but Julia said it was ‘the style’ and she enjoyed it.

Domaine Belluard Les Alpes 2009 – Vin de Savoie, France
100% Gringet. Almond scent, quite leesy in palate with slightly rancid nut flavours.

Domaine Belluard Le Feu 2009 – Vin de Savoie, France (100% Gringet)
Same producer, same variety as previous wine (100% Gringet) but such a contrast in style, this emanates a fuller, fatter more enticing aroma. Flinty in the palate with a chalky texture and a fresh citrus (lemon / lemonade) finish.   

Les Cretes Petite Arvine 2009 – Valle d’Aosta, Italy
Golden in colour with a rich bouquet and textural palate full of fleshy stonefruit, an underpinning of lime and a fresh, lively finish. I think this was the other book winner.

ManzWine Cheleiros Dona Fatima Jampal 2011 – Vinho Regional Lisboa, Portugal
Poached pear and baked apple scent, rich in the palate, a little gravelly but the fruity traits prevail, finishing dry with a touch of salinity. Some question as to whether marginally corked, but look past that to find a fascinating wine.

Pyramid Valley Savagnin Rose 2010 – Marlborough NZ
My favourite of all the whites, this has a rich concentrated aroma and an equally concentrated palate. It’s dry with textural complexity, light mouth-coating viscosity, stonefruit nuances, wild yeast flavours and a slightly salty finish. Savagnin Rose is described on the bottle as a non-musqué progenitor of Gewurztraminer.

The array of obscure wines after the tasting with Julia Harding MW explaining what we tasted.


Quinta dos Roques, Alfrocheiro Preto 2007 – Dao, Portugal
Purple violet. Earthy savoury and very dry with noticeable tannins and underlying acidity indicating the wine still needs time, but there is a delectable salty savouriness that says this wine would be excellent with the right food.

Suhu Punta Leo Gracin Babic 2008 – Croatia
A dark red wine with a ‘pongy’ aroma that reminding me of NZ reds of 25+ years ago. But that’s where the similarity ends. A clean, fruity wine with a touch of spice and underlying acidity.

Silver Heights Family Reserve 2009 - Ningxia, China
A Bordeaux blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Genischt, this to me had a deep Bordeaux varieties scent accented with pencil shavings. Dark in colour and dry in the palate with earth, herbs, stewed red fruit and a peppery bite, it’s a wine that needs to accompany food.

Bodega Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo El Terrerazo 2010 - Utiel Requena, Spain
This has a deep saturated purple red colour with earth, dried herbs, dried currants, vanilla on the nose and a juicy sweet-fruited palate with a touch of pepper and underlying vanillin oak. Made from Bobal, which contributes to much of the bulk wine in Spain, it is obscure as fine wine. Becoming more and more concentrated in the glass, this was my favourite red.

Les Cretes Vigne la Tour Fumin 2005 – Valle d’Aosta, Italy
Violet red, pencil shavings on nose, firm yet fine tannins, slightly oxidative style.

Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano 2008 - Alto Adige, Italy
Deep earthy wine with underlying acidity, firm tannins, some minor Bretty notes,


Trentham Estate Noble Taminga 2008 – Big Rivers, NSW, Australia
Golden coloured, richly aromatic, bright acidity in the palate to tame the concentrated raisin-like flavours. Orange peel and marmalade on the finish.

Where to buy the book

The best place for Kiwis to buy Wine Grapes is from Their price of NZ$169 (UK version - pictured left,) or NZ$149 (USA version - pictured right), includes free delivery within New Zealand. The UK and US editions differ only in the slip-case and cover design. The contents are exactly the same. Find out more about the book, and where else to buy, at

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