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

You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.

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Archive: February 2008
Feb 29th: Seductive reds for Leap Day
Feb 28th: Newsletter No. 50 has been posted
Feb 27th: Did somebody get the quantities wrong?
Feb 26th: Royal Easter Show Wine Awards - NZ Gold Medal Update
Feb 24th: Royal Easter Show Wine Awards judging
Feb 22nd: Te Koko - Outstanding Alternative Sauvignon Blanc
Feb 21st: Two new Montepulcianos - Morton Estate and Weeping Sands
Feb 20th: Dining out in Marlborough - Herzog Bistro review
Feb 19th: Vintage Underway, Lindauer Cellar closes and other industry news
Feb 18th: More Chardonnay Impressions - Trinity Hill, Cloudy Bay, Twin Islands
Feb 17th: Mother Clucking Chooks at the Wednesday Tasting
Feb 15th: What did you do for Valentine's Day?
Feb 11th: Wine of the Week: Woollaston Pinot Gris 2007
Feb 9th: Gemilicious Festival Fun
Feb 8th: Wines with Maori names or connections
Feb 7th: Maori is cool - so try Tohu
Feb 5th: Feb Newsletter and Sustainable Buzz
Feb 4th: Industry News and Wine of the Week
Feb 3rd: The Woodbox at Mystery Creek
Feb 1st: Outstanding NZ Syrahs
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 29th 2008

Seductive reds for Leap Day

It's Leap Day today, February 29th, a day where tradition says the woman can ask the man she loves to marry her.  Traditional has all but fallen from the wayside in the 21st century.  Girls ask guys to marry them every day - heck girls even ask girls to marry them as well. 

But if you are one of those shy woman who wants something to seduce their man, this is the day to do it.  No girly wines please.  What you want is a big gutsy, grunty red, oozing with fruit and oak and alcohol, perhaps a bit of earth and a touch of tar and even a little leathery funk. Something with a bit of age that has toned down the youthful freshness, a wine like the opulent and sexy Mills Reef Elspeth Block 3 Merlot 2002 that my other half opened the other night.

This is one delicious Hawkes Bay merlot. It's integrated on the nose with a slightly funky pinotesque character but with deeper cedar and cassis emanating out of the depth of the glass and it's supple, sexy and sensuous in the palate, like dark red rose petals on a bed of velvet, with lovely winey concentration and bottle-aged savouriness. Deliciously creamy with sweet-edged vanillin oak and a dry finish with a touch of fruit cake spice, it's an absolutely brilliant example of a six-year old New Zealand red wine. I rated it 19.5 out of 20.

If you can't get hold of something older, then something young, rich and powerful, like the Saltram Mamre Brook Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005 that we tried on Wednesday night should do the trick. Neil rated it as 'excellent', I rated it 'excellent' too, but it's the man's rating that counts today. Deep black-red with a shiny lustre, it's totally opaque with just a 1mm wide, bright crimson purple rim. Super seductive on the nose with chocolatey oak, black cherry fruit and hints of mint, it tastes dry, spicy and peppery with a youthful crispness, dusty tannins and delicious vanilla, cherry, chocolate and liquorice over a smoky, savoury backbone with a super succulent and totally smooth finish. This is truly an outstanding under-$20 buy.  Your guy should absolutely love it.

Click here to check out all my Wednesday roundup tasting notes - just about all gold medal winning wines.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 28th 2008

Newsletter No. 50 has been posted

When someone suggested that I start sending out email newsletters to advise readers what was new on the site, I decided to take up the Challenge.  That was seven years ago and I'm still writing them!  Okay, they've been somewhat irregular from time to time, especially last year when I only managed to send out three, but with three in the post box already this year, I've finally hit the half century milestone.

While much of the newsletter has a snippet of and links back to items already published, like Recent Wines of the Week and Recent Blog entries, there are also a couple of articles that haven't been published before.  Articles - or perhaps rants.

One is a rant about wine shows, but unlike most rants, which are negative, mine is entitled "A Positive Word about Wine Shows".

The other rant is entitled "Retailers reusing tasting notes and not disclosing the source". I'm not the first to rant on this subject, in fact Ric Einstein over at TORBWine, wrote a rather interesting article, back in 2004, called "The Games They Play".

So click on my latest newsletter - Number 50 - to read these articles and more.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 27th 2008

Did somebody get the quantities wrong?

From the Strange but True file ... according to a snippet in the New Zealand Herald last week, a booze limit has been placed on concert goers to the Mission Estate Winery Concert in Hawkes Bay this coming weekend because of incidents at previous concerts.

The Mission Estate concert is one of the few winery concerts where concert-goers are allowed to bring in their own alcohol rather than being limited to buying the winery's own products, which are available anyway. To cut down on drunkenness, people are now limited to two bottles of wine each, a dozen cans of beer or 10 pre-mixed drinks.

Um, has someone done the calculations wrong? Sure seems like a lot of booze to me.

Tom Jones and Jimmy Barnes are the headline acts.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 26th 2008

Royal Easter Show Wine Awards - NZ Gold Medal Update

Seventy nine wines were awarded gold medals at last weekend's judging of the Royal Easter Wine Show Awards, 5.9% of the 1334 total entries. 

All the results are on the website but the big winner was Villa Maria Estate with an incredulous 13-medal haul.

A total of 350 New Zealand wines have now won gold medals at eight New Zealand shows this 'season', with the New Zealand results from the Sydney International included, to make the results compiled from nine shows in total. I've updated my gold medal winners page with all the details.

However, the quick summary is this ....

5 golds

Although Saint Clair Pioneer Block 2 Sauvignon Blanc 2007 only managed a Silver Medal at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, it still tops the season's medal list with an incredible five golds and two silver medals from the seven shows it was eligible to enter.

4 golds

Forrest Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2006
Forrest Estate 'The Doctors' Marlborough Riesling 2006
Mud House Swan Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006

3 golds - The (E) indicates a 3rd gold was obtained at last weekend's Royal Easter Show

Auntsfield Cob Cottage Marlborough Chardonnay 2006  (E)
Boatshed Bay by Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot 2005 (E)
De Vine Wines Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006
Esk Valley Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Forrest Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2006
Goldwater Marlborough Chardonnay 2006
Kim Crawford Doc's Block Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006
Marsden Estate Black Rocks Northland Chardonnay 2006
Morton Estate Private Reserve Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007 (E)
Rose Tree Cottage Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 (E)
Sacred Hill Riflemans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 (E)
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 11 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (E)
Spy Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2007 (E)
Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (E)
Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (E)

I've also confirmed that Mud House Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 and Mud House Swan Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 from the original list are actually the same wine - so the 'Swan' has been elevated to a four gold medal winner.

If I get the inclination, I may update the list to highlight Trophy winners, so long as the Trophy was for 'Best' of its type, e.g. 'Best Chardonnay' and not for 'best export wine' or 'best commercial wine' or something of that ilk. It will be something to keep me busy after the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards Trophy Presentation Dinner on March 8th.

Update 23rd March 2008: The Trophy winners are now highlighted. In compiling the additions, I realised that Forrest Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2006 had only won three gold medals. What I though was a fourth gold, had actually gone to the 2007 vintage of the wine. The list has been corrected.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 24th 2008

Royal Easter Show Wine Awards judging

About 1300 wines were judged this weekend for the 55th annual Royal Easter Show Wine Awards - the longest running annual wine show in New Zealand.

Five panels of judges (including moi) and a huge back room support crew took over the airy space of the Food Court at Auckland's newly redeveloped ASB Showgrounds for the two day judging event. Who could have foretold that the Auckland weekend would have been so wet and miserable - just perfect for staying inside and judging wines. 

Medal winning wines will be announced later in the week and Trophies will be announced at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards Trophy Presentation Dinner on 8th March at the Showgrounds. Doors open at 6.00pm, first flavours will be served from 6.30pm. Tickets cost $190 per person or $1,800 for a table of ten. For reservations, please email or call 09 623 7726.
Click here for more information.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 22nd 2008

Te Koko - Outstanding Alternative Sauvignon Blanc

Made by Marlborough's most famous wine company, Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2005 is a light gold-coloured wine with powerful aromas of tropical guava and feijoa tinged with a wild yeast funkiness and a touch of caramel oak complexity. If you are tasting blind, the aromas will have you scratching your head as to what it might be.  The full-bodied, powerful taste is intriquing too.  It's bright and tangy and exotically fruited with an oiliness to the texture and a soft acid backbone, baked apple and spice and such fabulous length.  It's a world apart from the typical Marlborough savvy.   I can see this being a 'love it' or 'hate it' wine with no middle ground.   Personally I think this is the best Te Koko that Cloudy Bay has produced yet. It has 13.5% alcohol, it's sealed with a screwcap and costs (gulp) NZ$43.95.

It was tasted in Wednesday's lineup of Southern Hemisphere whites and Northern Hemisphere reds. Click here to check out all my notes.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 21st 2008

Two new Montepulcianos - Morton Estate and Weeping Sands

I remember attending a Wine New Zealand seminar in October 2003 with a topic, 'Emerging New Varieties'.

The question was,  "Is there market interest for new varieties? Why produce them if no-one knows about them or is going to buy them?"

The answer was, "You have to test the market. People want something different from time to time. So do the winemakers."

One of the 'new' varieties was Pinot Gris, which is hardly new as it arrived in New Zealand with the missionaries in the 1850's. But it's only the last few years that people have taken notice. Now it's the number three white wine grape in New Zealand after Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It has defnitely tested and won over the market

Another varietal that was discussed was Montelpulciano. This Tuscan native is a relatively late-ripening red with massive bunches. It's a hardy grape that is drought resistant in mid-summer and rot-resistant if the heavens open up to break the drought. Seems like an ideal grape for the warmer northern regions of New Zealand as well as Marlborough. And another plus in its favour is that it can be treated like Merlot in the winery.

Montepulciano has a short history in New Zealand, imported only twenty-odd years ago. But it's starting to take off too. Vin Alto in Clevedon was an early adopter, producing a vintage in 1996, the same year than Hans Herzog in Marlborough planted his grapes. Then Framingham in Marlborough joined the Monte crew as did Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay, who was the first to achieve gold medal success. Black Barn and Beach House in Hawkes Bay have also produced Monte, likewise new Matakana producer, Omaha Bay.

Now there are two more to add to the growing list.

Morton Estate Private Reserve Hawkes Bay Montepulciano 2005
Deeply coloured with rich berry aromas that have a winey smokiness, leather, dried herbs and brambly fruit that smells ripe and goupy. It's a medium-bodied, fine textured, slightly oxidative style with underlying acidity and a rustic character to the finish reminiscent of an Italian country red. A great choice for lighter summer drinking and to accompany lamb on the barbie. A richer creamy character is more obvious the second day. 13% alc. $22.95. Screwcap closure.

Weeping Sands Waiheke Island Montepulciano 2006
A deep black red, shiny and crimson-edged bright, this clean, modern, upfront style filled with delicious, juicy, wild berry and chocolate coated cherry fruit with a backbone of thick, velvety tannins and creamy oak. The oak is sweet and vanillin, I thought it may have some American influence but the label says it was aged in new and seasoned French for 12 months. It tries to seduce you to drink it without food, but lamb, with its subtle gamey savouriness, is better. I liked it best the first night because the following night, the underlying acidity lets you know its there. Made by Obsidian Wines, this is the first Montepulciano from Waiheke Island. It has 14% alcohol, a screwcap closure and costs about $33.

There's increased plantings of Montepulciano in the ground and I expect to see new labels for this varietal from the 2007 and 2008 vintages to appear on the scene in the not too distant future. While I don't think it will take off here, like Pinot Noir and the new grape red hope, Syrah, it certainly provides red wine diversity.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 20th 2008

Dining out in Marlborough - Herzog Bistro Review

When someone asked me earlier this week for a recommendation on where to lunch in Marlborough, I only had one answer - Herzog.

Herzog is touted as Marlborough's top winery destination and indeed reviews for dining at Herzog are some of the best I've ever seen. But all the reviews that I've read are for Herzog's luxury fine dining restaurant, which is only open at nights.

herzogb.jpg (69544 bytes)What is not so well known is that owners Hans and Therese Herzog also run a much more casual, lunchtime bistro at the winery cottage that doubles as the cellar door. Here you can sit on the deck, or on the beautifully manicured lawn of the pretty cottage garden with a backdrop of grapevines and the famous Marlborough outline of the Richmond Range in the distance.

The Bistro menu is minimal with a choice of three entrees, a soup, three main courses, a cheese platter and two desserts. Herzog's wines are available by the bottle and amost all are available by the glass.

Having items on the menu like 'pasta of the day' and 'fish of the day' allows some flexibility with seasonal produce and the day I dined there, the 'pasta of the day' ($22), was actually risotto.

It was a gorgeous, creamy rich risotto with mushrooms and Parmesan.  It was beautifully made, dreamy to eat and a perfect match to Herzog Pinot Gris 2007 ($10 a glass). There's a burnished gold edge to the ever so slightly pink colour of this rich, creamy wine. Classic pear drop on the nose carries through to the palate with a delicate undercurrent of citrus, a hint of musk, a drop of sweetness (even though the wine is technically bone dry) and a long, clean, well-balanced finish. There's also a slight earthiness to the flavour which married to the mushroom risotto perfectly. The vines were amongst the first that Hans and Therese planted on their property after arriving in Marlborough from Switzerland in 1996 as most of what they grew in Switzerland was Pinot Gris. But for this vintage, the crops from the 7 different clones were ridiculously low

We were sitting on the verandah, in the shade, but as a breeze came up we moved onto the lawn and into the sun to finish our meal with a decadent platter of cheeses, amongst which was Te Mata Irongate Washed Rind, a brie style cheese made from cow's milk. Just gorgeous and an incredible match to Herzog Marlborough Montepulciano 2005, an amazing inky, deep black-red coloured pool of liquid with smoky cedar aromas, hints of florals, a touch of tobacco, a beautiful creaminess to the flow and a tight tannin structure that the cheese just cut through. $13.50 a glass.

herzogs.jpg (14525 bytes)But the wine of the day was undoubtably Herzog, 'The Spirit of Marlborough' 2001, a blend of 65% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec ($12.50 a glass). Smoky and savoury with French oak and cigar box aromas, it smells and tastes European but with a touch of 'New World' fruit sweetness. It's very dry, long and savoury with a creaminess to the flow, a suggestion of sweet oak, an undercurrent of ripe fruit, a slight chocolatey richness and violets emerging as the aftertaste of the wine lingers in the mouth. A complex wine and unbelievable that it is Marlborough fruit. But then Hans says he chose this 13.5 hectare site that extends almost to the edge of the Wairau River, specifically to make the best wines he could - and to make wine he couldn't make in Switzerland.

Also on the cheese platter was a rich, pan forte-like slice, which is totally recommended to accompany 'The Spirit of Marlborough'. 2001 is the current release, as evidently the wine is unapproachable when young.

Herzog Bistro, 81 Jeffries Road, Rapaura. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 3pm, from mid October to May.
Check out   Note: Herzog is known as Hans Herzog in the USA.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 19th 2008

Vintage Underway, Lindauer Cellar closes and other industry news

The 2008 harvest is underway with the first grapes of the vintage picked in Gisborne on the 8th February. The early ripening grape is the little-known Reichensteiner. "We expect the last of the Reichy in this week," says Rob Godwin, general manager of the grape processing facility, Gisvin.

There will be a break in Gisvin's processing, then Pinot Gris, the first of the Chardonnay and Muller Thurgau will start later in the month. The bulk of the harvest will be underway mid-March and while it is expected to finish at the end of April in Gisborne, it will continue until the end of May in cooler areas, with some grapes for sweet wines hanging on the vines until well into June.

Gisvin processes grape for 20 to 24 clients. Check out their website and the photo gallery to see what they do.

The New Zealand grape harvest is being forecast by New Zealand Winegrowers to produce between 225,000 and 245,000 tonnes of grapes, which is quite a reasonable jump over last years record 205,000 tonnes. This is in line with expectations, given the 2,000 hectare increase in producing vineyards and a return to more normal yields despite frosts in some regions last October.

"The increased vintage will be welcomed by wineries given strong sales in the past year," says Philip Gregan from NZ Winegrowers, as exports continue to grow. In 2007, that growth was 24% in value and 30% in volume.

As Gisborne comes to life with the harvest, the biggest cellar in Gisborne closes. Lindauer Cellars, the cellar door at the Montana Winery, which offered wine tastings and winery tours as well as restaurant dining, closed last Friday, February 15th. Montana is now owned by Pernod Ricard and the company has decided that due to the low number of visits to the cellar door, the operation was not commercially viable and as a result, it has been closed. Two staff members have been affected. 

The closure of Lindauer Cellars must be a blow to Gisborne's wine tourism operators.  

In other news, Sileni Estate has become New Zealand Cricket's official wine supplier for the 2007 / 2008 season.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 18th 2008

More Chardonnay Impressions - Trinity Hill, Cloudy Bay, Twin Islands

A few more chardonnays were tasted with the Chicken and Peach Sauce featured with this week's Wine of the Week, which was Bouldevines Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 (click this underlined link to read the review). The wines were ....

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006
Full of toasty savoury oak aromas - it smells of new, spicy French oak and very appealing. Sweet oak in palate with a kind of estery vanillin bubblegum sweetness over a buttery, mealy backbone. Some malolactic fermentation treatment obvious with creamy lactic influences to the fore and a savoury aftertaste. While just a little coarse when tasted immediately after opening, this wine really came into its own after a couple of days in the bottle.  Hawkes Bay Chardonnay and peach is almost failsafe and this wine matched to my Chicken and Peach extremely well.  A weighty wine at 14.8% alcohol, it has a Diam technical cork closure and costs about NZ$30 a bottle.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Chardonnay 2006
Light gold in colour with a topaz-like glow, this rich, powerful, leesy barrel-ferment style is appealing from the outset. There's a touch of mellow, wild yeast 'funk' on the nose and in the palate there are ripe nectarines galore - nectarines and peach married to toasty oak. The ripe fruit imparts a fleshy sweetness though of course the wine is dry - but it's luscious, decadent and toasty with a butterscotch caramel finish. As this wine developed in the bottle over a couple of days, the wild yeast characters got more and more funky and despite its initially peachy flavours, it didn't go with my Chicken and Peach meal, nor the scallop and snapper dish I made the day I opened the wine, but it definitely went with the smoky bacon that was layered over the roast chicken as it baked.  So delicious and simply described as 'yum', it could have been Wine of the Week if it had been a better food match.  A powerful wine with 14% alcohol, it has a screwcap closure and costs about NZ$43.95.

Twin Islands Marlborough Chardonnay 2007
A very pale citrine gold, the fruit aromas hint of light oak and the bright fruit flavours seem to confirm the oak is indeed quite light. It's clean, fresh and bright with youthful, bubble gum esters, citrus and tropical fruit including dried mango and pineapple. It makes me think 'yellow fruit' and that fruit is fantastically concentrated while a mealy richness adds concentration and completeness to the finish.  It opens your mind as to how wine can change as it travels across the palate. Closed with a screwcap, the wine has 13.5% alcohol and costs about $18, less on promotions. Not a good match to the Chicken and Peach, this was much better matched to a scallop and snapper saute. A fresh tasty wine in a fresh new package.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 17th 2008

Mother Clucking Chooks at the Wednesday Tasting

Critter labels are all the vogue. There's something about them that that people love, never mind what the wine is like. It the same with TV adverts too. Put a cutesy animal in the ad and everybody loves it.

Here in New Zealand, Coopers Creek led from the outset with cutesy critter labels, giving birth to the litter in the early 1990's. Them call them Purrfect Wines. There is Fat Cat Chardonnay, Sour Puss Semillon, Tom Cat Merlot, Glamour Puss Pinot Noir and the world famous Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush (except Pee is Phee in the USA and I see Glamour Puss is Sally Cat in Canada and Fat Cat is Boss Cat in the USA). I remember years ago, when the wines were released here in NZ, they came in cat boxes complete with airholes and carry handles for transporting a sickly pussy to the vet. My late, great ginger cat called Leadbelly had an excursion in a Fat Cat carry box once.

So when a company in Canada wanted a special wine with a unique critter label, who better to ask then Coopers Creek. And what they came up with was Mother Cluckers. Coopers Creek made a couple of tanks of the stuff but not all of it made its way to Canada.

Mother Cluckers Gisborne Chardonnay 2005 is clean and youthful with a fruity peach aroma and plenty of brash fruity brightness to the creamy textured flavours with citrus, pineapple, a mealy undercurrent and a touch of butterscotch to the finish. There's complexity from the little bit of age and most people would never guess it was unoaked. It's sealed with a screwcap and has 13.5% alcohol by volume and it's selling at a store in Takapuna for $10.99 a bottle with a cheaper price on case buys.

Summer, chicken on the barbie, at the beach, certainly a great summer wine, especially at the price.

There's nothing wrong with unoaked Chardonnay - some of the wines make a fine, fruity drink. Another delicious one I really enjoyed recently is Spy Valley Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 from Marlborough. This has an appealing fruity aroma and clean, fruity flavours of citrus and juicy tropical fruit with a touch of viscosity to the texture, a spicy, savoury undercurrent (no doubt from the four months aging on yeast lees) and a bright zesty finish. A little more expense with an RRP of $16.90, but that is what the RRP of the Mother Cluckers is as well.

Oh, by the way, Mother Cluckers was the pretaster at the Wine Spirit Tasting last Wednesday night, a Trans Tasman Challenge, which this wine was not part of.
Click here to check out all my notes.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 15th 2008

What did you do for Valentine's Day?

What did you do for Valentine's Day? A bit of a rhetoric question really. Call me a spoil sport, but we did nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. I hate the commercialism of Valentine's Day and champagne, chocolate and red roses are all so predictable. The Dublin Bay climbing rose is still flowering profusely anyway, so I said to Neil - look, there's a red rose for you. It's still there, outside the bedroom window, looking gorgeous.

As we were sipping on a glass of wine last night, cosy in front of the tellie, Neil reminded me we spent our first Valentine's Day together, on our honeymoon, at Disneyland. We went into one of the shops there to buy each other a Valentine's card and just couldn't believe how many cards there were. But seeing was believing. It was like a supermarket aisle of Valentine's cards. It was ginormous. He started at one end, I started at the other and we met in the middle with our cards. Then we looked at the price. We each took a step back with eyebrows raised. We went, "jeepers, creepers", put the cards back on the shelf and vowed we would never buy each other a V Day card again.

The bottom line is, you don't need a manufactured day and a card to say "I love you". While it's a great day for courting couples, or for future courting couples (go for it guys!), we celebrate the union of our love a week earlier. Impromptu is always good but we always go all out on our wedding anniversary - that's our really special day.

We enjoyed a delicious bubbles too.

Highfield Elstree Marlborough Brut 2003, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 3 years on yeast lees before disgorgement, is lemon gold in the glass with tiny bubbles rising endlessly and a few bigger ones erupting from the bottom of the glass from time to time. A rich, savoury tasting fizz, it's full of marmite-yeasty flavours with a sweeter brioche overlay and a fine seam of citrus that morphs into a fleshy peachy finish.

It was the perfect match for garlic prawns - peeled and skewered and sizzled on the barbie. A great starter for a night of indulgence.

Do you really need Valentine's Day as an excuse for great wine, great food and lurrrrve? Just do it any day!

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 11th 2008

Wine of the Week: Woollaston Pinot Gris 2007

Could 2007 be the turning point for New Zealand Pinot Gris? I certainly think so.  There are just so many good wines from the vintage - from every region in New Zealand although Marlborough and Nelson have provided most of the wines I've tasted.  And Nelson has the edge, I think. I picked Rimu Grove Bronte Pinot Gris 2007, a wine that is a blend of Marlborough and Nelson grapes, as Wine of the Week back in December.  Now this week, Woollaston Pinot Gris 2007, a 100% Nelson grown wine, is this weeks Wine of the Week.  Love the new labelling too.
Click here to read the review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 9th 2008

Gemilicous Festival Fun

Marlborough celebrated its 25th annual wine festival today and by all reports it was a sizzling affair with 8,000 revellers enjoying the summer sun, the music the food and of course the wines from the 57 wineries at the event

I popped into the rather more sedate Kumeu Wine, Beer and Food Festival in Auckland's northwest with only eight wine stalls - but some of the wines were so gemilicious, most particularly those from the Studio Wine Company with the evocative name, Gem.

Corey HallGem is the brand of winemaker Corey Hall, who, prior to starting the company in 2005, was the chief winemaker at Matua Valley.

Wine of the day was Gem Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2006, from the absolutely super vintage that year in the lower North Island. This succulent savoury wine has a velvety richness and a chocolatey undercurrent to the crisp red fruit with a touch of funk and spice. It's long and creamy with excellent length that reveals some very appealing forest floor tones. Sealed with a screwcap, it has only 12% alcohol - and it looks like it could be a keeper. 
Check out for more info.

The other highlight was barbecued beer sausages on beer bread with beer mustard - and tomato sauce to add colour.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 8th 2008

Wines with Maori names or connections

Gosh, it was a fun night at the Wine Spirit tasting last Wednesday. It was Waitangi Day and appropriately the theme was 'wines with Maori names or connections'. A similar night on Waitangi Day a few years back was a dismal failure as there were no Te Reo speakers in the room and at times we had no idea what the Maori names meant. This time some of the tasters had a good understanding of Te Reo and two tasters arrived with books - one with a dictionary of Maori place names, the other with a miniature Maori dictionary circa 1960's. (I have one of the latter - with all its pages intact.  It is a 'Lillput' publication (1962)  - an inch wide and an inch and a half high).

Give me some Maori place names, said Kingsley after pouring a chardonnay. When someone said "Kumeu," he asked if anyone knew what it meant. The meaning was nothing like anyone expected.

Let's just say that 'kume' translates to 'to pull' and 'u' translates to breast, so the literal translation is 'pulling the breast'. I can't imagine what images were conjured up but the story goes that when Ruatuapere (a girl) of Ngati-Porou (a tribe) wanted to avenge her cousin's death, she bared her bosom and pulled her breast in order to incite a war.

The wine wasn't from Kumeu, however. It was the Goldwater Zell Chardonnay 2004 from Waiheke Island. Just about everyone knows that 'wai' translates to water but 'heke' has several meanings including to descend, get off, dismount, disembark, migrate, subside, fall, drip and ebb (of the tide). So literally, Waiheke means to get off the water, which would be the logical thing to do after arriving at an island, although most translations say 'cascading or ebbing water'.

We also came to the conclusion that Waimea, the name of a Nelson winery that takes it name from the surrounding Waimea Plains, which is dissected by the Waimea River that flows into the Waimea Estuary, means 'dirty', 'unpalatable' or 'tasteless'. The wine, which was Waimea Nelson Gewurztraminer 2007, thankfully was clean and totally palatable with lots of tasty flavours, although a bit on the dry side for some.

Highlights included the stunning Main Divide Tehau Selection Pinot Noir 2006 and the legendary Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006.

No idea what Tehau means - 'te' translates to either 'the', 'not' or 'to crack'. 'Hau' translates to 'strike, hit, serve or chop'; 'to be heard, to be famous' or 'wind, breeze, air, vital essence, vitality of human life'.

The meaning of Ata Rangi is easy because it is on their website. It means "new beginning" or dawn sky".

All my tasting notes are, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 7th 2008

Maori is cool

Maori culture can give New Zealand a competitive edge in the tourism stakes, said a news report on the eve of Waitangi Day. A study, commissioned by the Maori Development Ministry Te Puni Kokiri said there is increasing international demand for all things Maori. People are discovering the Maori edge. Maori is cool.

We're seeing it in motifs on clothing, tattoos on pop stars, e.g. Robbie Williams, hakas in advertisements played during the super bowl final and mokos used as face adornments in haute couture.

There are many wine brands from New Zealand with Maori names but Tohu was the first New Zealand brand to proudly proclaim its indigenous heritage.

Our Gift from the Land - Nga Hua A Te Whenua, it says on the back labels of the wines.

Try these: tohusb.jpg (23268 bytes)

Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($17-$19) smells like those toasty dried apple snacks together with a touch of floral musk, which comes from ripe sauvignon blanc grapes. Soft in its attack with a lightly oily texture, the creamy richness is underpinned by a steely, 'stoney' undercurrent with a flourish of stonefruit then a touch of capsicum and apple on the crisp, lingering finish. An 'elite' gold medal winner at the 2007 Air New Zealand Wine Awards - chill it right down for a refreshing taste of summer.

Tohu Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 ($28) is a lighter style than many of the new wave of pinot noirs we are seeing from the South Island, yet despite its comparative lightness, it is still immensely drinkable and will have wide appeal. It's soft and savoury with a creamy texture, subtle smoky oak, red fruits, a touch of dried herb and a fruit sweetness to the lingering finish. Very tasty indeed.

Widely available locally and internationally, check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 5th 2008

Feb Newsletter and Sustainable Buzz

The newsletter = No. 49, is out today. Click here to read it online.
Among the items is "The Sustainable Buzz".  It reads like this ....

"The buzz word among New Zealand winegrowers today is sustainable, which not only pertains to growing grapes but also to making wine, packaging wine and transporting wine to markets locally and internationally.

Yesterday New Zealand Winegrowers announced the launch of an initiative to give wineries and vineyards the ability to calculate their carbon footprint and to encourage sustainable winegrowing. It has been developed through a partnership between key international wine industry organisations in Australia, California, South Africa and New Zealand. The protocol includes an internationally-agreed standard of inclusions by participating countries and gives wineries and vineyards the ability to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions.

If you are interested in this type of thing, you can download the protocol and calculation tool from the New Zealand Winegrowers website at this link."

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 4th 2008

Industry News and Wine of the Week

Ant McKenzie is leaving Spy Valley Wines after 8 years as Chief Winemaker. His new job as Chief Winemaker for Mudhouse Wine Group, which he starts in a couple of weeks, is based in Marlborough. However with the Head Office in Waipara and a fair amount of wine made in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay, he will spend some time travelling the country although less time travelling internationally, which is good news for his family.

"I wanted to try something different and the lure of making Waipara Riesling and Central Otago Pinot Noir was pretty good motivation," said Ant in an email to me earlier today.

Unison Wines sold

Anna-Barbara & Bruce Helliwell have sold Unison Vineyard and at midday today they handed over the business to an ex UK couple who have renamed the business Unison Estate.

"It all happened very quickly," said Anna-Barbara. "The decision didn't come easily at all and it was a personal decision not financially driven."

Anna-Barbara and Bruce will retain their crest and the Marie's Vineyard brand as well as the Salsa Balsamico and they continue their consultancy company Vintage Solutions Ltd, which offers viticulture, winemaking, wine marketing and general business advice. They are leaving behind a very well established estate, a fantastic home and a well respected brand with a strong story, but we are taking with them their dedication and a combined 48 years of international viticulture and winemaking experience.

Bruce will also be a part-time consultant to introduce the new owners in viticulture and winemaking and how a winery is run on a day to day basis and his name will appear on the wines from the 2007 vintage which he will bottle.

Wine of the Week

Hihi Sirius Chardonnay 2007 from Gisborne is this week's Wine of the Week. I rate it a five star wine in both the quality and delicious drinking stakes.
Click here to check out the Wine of the Week review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 3rd 2008

The Woodbox at Mystery Creek

Headed down to Hamilton yesterday, about 80 miles south of Auckland - and I say miles because we were in a classic car which does not measure distance in kilometres.   Hamilton is not really known as a wine tourism destination but there are some wineries close to the city so I thought I'd give my updated Waikato wine region touring guide a whirl.

Vilagrad Wines, a little south west of Hamilton, doesn't do casual wine tastings at their cellar door, in fact the wine tastings are held at the restaurant's bar and are by appointment only. But as the lady who does the wine tastings didn't start until 2pm and they had a wedding on at 4pm and they had to set up the restaurant for the wedding, wine tasting was out. 

Judge Valley at Puahue, south of Hamilton and a little east of Te Awamutu, had a recorded message when I rang. As they are primarily a function centre too, we weren't prepared just to rock on up in case we invaded another wedding.

Mystery Creek Wines, south of Hamilton near the airport, also had a recorded message, but they did give out the telephone number of the new winery restaurant, The Woodbox, which is on the property on the edge of the vines, overlooking the Waikato River. There was no one available to do a wine tasting by appointment, although we were told we could buy glasses of wine to drink at the bar if we wished.  We weren't going there for a drinking session, so we booked in for lunch, instead. 

The Woodbox only opened last November but the word has quickly done the rounds and the place was sizzling. So was the sun, so we sat in a shady spot outside, as far away as possible from the group with the screaming kids.

The menu looked so tempting, I narrowed the choices down to about 10 before I finally decided on the special of the day, a Bruschetta of shredded lamb, sticky shallots, roast capsicum and cashew nut pesto ($13).  Neil chose Wood over roasted chicken on Turkish pide with bacon, tomato, hummus, avocado relish and aioli ($17.50).  Then I saw Duck Liver Pate with caramelised fig jam and walnut toast ($12.50) and my knees buckled. I ordered that too.

The wine list is extensive, with all of the Mystery Creek wines plus an extensive selection of local and international wines, the most expensive being Chateau Latour 1982 @ $4250 a bottle.  Grange 1998 looked rather a better buy at just $750 a bottle.

I chose Mystery Creek Waikato Syrah 2005  ($8 a glass) to match my lamb. This medium-bodied red has spice-infused aromatics and flavours of cracked wild blackberries with pepper, spice, liquorice, leather, tar and underlying acidity adding some bite. The fruit comes from Te Marama vineyard at Mangatawhiri in the northern part of the Waikato region.  Not as generous as some Syrahs can be, but definitely a good food match with the cashew nut pesto enhancing the piquancy of the wine.woodbox wines by the glass

Neil chose Mystery Creek Waikato Viognier 2006 ($8 a glass). A medium to full-bodied dry white, quite rich, creamy and leesy with perhaps a touch of oak and a lemony undercurrent enhanced by chilling. As it warmed up the melon and apricot fruit emerged with a touch of spice. Quite a neutral wine that should be a good food match, but declared 'just okay' with the chicken on the day.  It was the last vintage of Viognier from the home vineyard, as the vines were deemd too 'fickle' for the Waikato climate and have been repalced with something more productive.

Great stemware, but both the wines screamingly clashed with the deliciously creamy Duck Liver Pate, by the way. 

It's been a while since I had visited Mystery Creek Vineyard and the changes are immediately obvious.  The original 4.5 hectare property was planted into persimmons in the 1980's then half the property was put in vines when the money dropped out of the persimmon industry. Now with income boosted by shareholders, vines cover the property with no sign of any persimmon trees and a new winery is in its final stages of construction ready for the 2008 vintage.  Grapes for the vintage will come from all over the country as well as from the home vineyard block.

The purchase of the neighbouring property between the vineyard and the river has provided the infrastructure for the restaurant.  A tasting room is nearing completion and is expected to open later this month.  Opening hours will be Wednesday to Sunday, the same days as the restaurant.  Seems there'll also be a new website. says "all new website coming soon". 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Feb 1st 2008

Outstanding NZ Syrahs

New Zealand Syrah was on the tasting agenda at last Wednesday's Wine Spirit tasting and with some of the most awarded Syrahs on the Show circuit included, we were in for a real treat.

First up was Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - a bottled but not officially released wine.  Talk about pepper in Syrah - this wine has it in spades.   Very tight knit and finely structured at this stage of its life - it shows outstanding potential with its gorgeous aromatics and varietal expression. $33.99.

Coopers Creek SV Chalk Ridge Hawke's Bay Syrah 2006 was such a contrast.  Upfront flavours were creamy oak, chocolate and fruit while the pepper signature loitered in the background to make its presence felt on the finish. Easy drinking with its soft,slippery tannins, at $23.99 a bottle, this has to be the buy in Syrah right now.

Passage Rock Waiheke Island Syrah 2006 was the only New Zealand Syrah to win gold amongst all-comers in the Shiraz/Syrah class at the New Zealand International Wine Show last September.  When I tasted the wine back then, the cool climate character of the wine stood out but in the company of cool climate colleagues, it wasn't as obvious. A sumptuous wine with warm alcohol, juicy purple fruit and the pepper signature prominent throughout, it's creamy and long.  $52.99.

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2006 from Hawkes Bay is the wine everybody especially wanted to try.  Not only because it was awarded Champion Syrah and Champion Wine of the Show at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards last November, but also because of its $120 price tag.  I wrote the descriptions for the Air New Zealand Wine Awards booklet and said, "Savoury, seductive and highly concentrated with black fruit, sweet oak, peppery spices and youthful tannins."  I'll also add it has a density and weight that is rarely seen in Syrah from New Zealand. Outstanding.

Also tasted Chardonnay, Italian reds and Rieslings, including the brand new release of The Crater Rim Waipara Riesling 2007 ($19.99).  A little young right now, but destined to be as good as its sibling from 2006.

All the notes can be viewed on my Wednesday Tasting Page - click here.

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