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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: April 2008
Apr 30th: Starting and finishing the month on a 'Grasshopping' high
Apr 28th: WOTW: William Thomas Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Apr 27th: Two Tasty North Island Pinot Noirs
Apr 25th: Peace. Pax. Lest We Forget.
Apr 21st: WOTW: Coal Pit 'Tiwha' Pinot Noir 2006
Apr 19th: Super VFM Thornbury Chardonnay
Apr 13th: WOTW: Lochiel 'The Laird' Fortified Dessert Wine
Apr 9th: Remembering 1968 and Vintage Update
Apr 7th: Toasting Marsden
Apr 6th: A Spiritual Vinous Epiphany
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Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 30th 2008

Starting and finishing the month on a 'Grasshopping' high

Well, I can't say that April 2008 has been my best month ever, even though it started on a high and ended on a high. 

The start-of-the-month 'high' was a trip to Northland for the MG Car Club National Rally where we stayed at the Copthorne Hotel with a sea front room where you could lie in bed and watch Venus rise at 5am in the morning, if you were awake at that hour, which I usually was.  Of course, vinous excursions were high priority side events.  We visited Marsden Estate and Ake Ake Vineyard in Kerikeri, not far from Waitangi.  We detoured to Karikari Estate, the most northern winery in New Zealand, after the car club's 'trial event' (in which Neil and I managed to finish 1st equal). Then on the way home to Auckland, we visited Lochiel Estate, the southern-most Northland vineyard at Mangawhai.  Mangawhai is not too far north of Matakana, but the Auckland-Northland boundary lies between the two M's.

The end-of-the-month 'high' was mention of in Jo Burzynska's wine column in the Viva supplement of the New Zealand Herald, published today.  Wow, it's the first time I've been mentioned in a NZ Herald wine column since 2001.  That was when I contributed some articles to the Herald and "" was part of my byline. 
Click here to read Jo's column - Caught in the wine web.

The middle was the part between the beginning and the end and the lack of articles on the website and the blog will be noticeable to followers of my writings. So I can make excuses like, "I had a full knee replacement and one of my best friends died".

Now I'm looking forward to May - and it is only tomorrow away.

grasshopper.jpg (16020 bytes)Wine of the DayGrasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006
This is the first vintage of a new wine venture between five shareholding families.   The vineyard is in Earnscleugh, near Alexandra, in Central Otago and the fabulous 2006 vintage is the debut.  Deep ruby, not quite opaque, the aroma is smoky and savoury and the initial taste is tight.  But it opens up beautifully in the glass to express truffley, earthy, forest floor and 'fruits of the forest' with underlying hints of tamarillo and dried thyme-like herbs with a cherry sweetness to the plush, full aftertaste.  Best to decant if opening now, because the wine improved and improved in the bottle and tonight, when I finished the bottle that was opened 10 days ago (recyling tomorrow), chocolatey nuances add to its allure.
The wine was made by Carol Bunn at Vinpro and is available primarily by mail order.   It costs $29.95 a bottle and is closed with a screwcap. I imagine it will offer tasty drinking for at least 5 years.  Check out
It wasn't the best match to the strong-flavoured field mushrooms from my back paddock, but it was a humdinger match to backstrap of lamb with a mushroom and herb breaded topping. Yum!

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

WOTW: William Thomas Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007

While the 2008 vintage is Marlborough is bringing delight or dismay (or both to the larger producers), it will definitely be a vintage to remember .... Yes, the drought broke, right in the midst of harvest.

Fast track back to 2007 - a harvest of potential excellence right across the board ....

Click here to continue reading this 'Wine of the Week' review.

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

Two Tasty North Island Pinot Noirs

When we think of North Island pinot noir, it is Martinborough that instantly springs to mind.  It is well deserved too because the Martinborough region produced the first real pinot noirs of note and when the weather gods produce the right conditions, the Martinborough wines simply excel.  We do tend to brush the other North Island regions aside when it comes to pinot noir but these two wines reviewed below show character throughout - and when I matched them to freshly picked field mushrooms that were cooked in a creamy sauce and served on toast (see this Wine of the Week review for the recipe), they simply sang.

Gladstone Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2006
Cherryish pinot scents introduce this juicy, generous style. Ripe and juicy with immediate appeal, it's spicy and savoury with a touch of smoke and a bright-fruited strawberry / cherry / guava fruit sweetness to the expansive finish. With the field mushrooms on toast, the vibrancy of the wine and the underlying acidity complement the food quite beautifully.

Where is Wairarapa? It is the greater area that includes Martinborough - in fact Martinborough is a subset of the Wairarapa. Gladstone Vineyard is on a river terrace in Dakins Road close to the town of Gladstone. Fruit from here as well as Te Muna Road in Martinborough contributed to this wine, which was matured in French oak for 10 months. It has 14% alcohol stated on the label, a screwcap closure and an RRP of about $41.00 a bottle.

Trinity Hill High Country Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2006
From the inland 'high country' of Hawkes Bay, this is smoky and spicy with a nice touch of funk and biscuity nuances on the nose. It's full-bodied, funky, spicy and bright to the taste with an earthy complexity and a smoky depth with black cherry and blueberry fruit and a floral lift to the finish with a hint of mocha. Smooth in its delivery and quite complex. Let the juices of the mushroom soak into the toast. It's simply yum. This has 14% alcohol stated on the label, a Diam super critical cork closure and an RRP of NZ$39.95 a bottle.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 25th 2008

Peace. Pax. Lest We Forget.

As I watched the dawn service televised live from Gallipoli and saw the New Zealand, Australian and Turkish flags flying at half mast on this, the 93rd anniversary of Anzac Day, I wondered what had happened to the peace wine, "Pax". It is a wine made from a blend of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Australian semillon and Turkish cavus (an indigenous variety) but the only reference I can find to an actual release is the 2005 vintage. So I'm thinking it must have been a 'one off' wine for the 90th anniversary of Anzac Day.

The blend was assembled in the Hunter Valley by winemaker Chris Cameron who, in earlier reports, was hoping to plant a vineyard near the battle site at Gallipoli where so many soldiers lost their lives on April 25th, 1915.

Chris was the winemaker at Pepper Tree Wines and I did email him last year, but received no reply perhaps because he had already headed across the Pacific to Summerwood Winery in Paso Robles, where he now works. So I guess the Pax wine project, like the soldiers who fell at Gallipoli, has been laid to rest.

Peace. Pax. Lest we forget.

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

WOTW: Coal Pit 'Tiwha' Pinot Noir 2006

Talk about coincidence. We were out with a group of like-minded friends for breakfast. A big warming breakfast because the morning had been so cold. Our plates were groaning with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms. The cultivated mushrooms were nice, but mild.....
Click here to continue reading this 'Wine of the Week' review.

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

Super VFM Thornbury Chardonnay

Back on deck again and a little heavier in weight, thanks to a Stryker Triathlon system in my knee, I had my first taste of wine in well over a week and it woke up all the taste buds with a bang. It was the super priced and most incredibly delicious Thornbury Chardonnay 2007 from Gisborne.Thornbury Chardonnay

Tasted at First Glass on last Wednesday night, Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2007 is a big bright rich toasty style. Served slightly chilled, which accentuates the butterscotch aromas and flavours, it is creamy and long with ripe peach and melon fruit, butterscotch richness and a spicy depth. There's plenty of warmth from the 14% alcohol and the bottle is sealed with a screwcap. A great way to start the evening.

2007 has to have been the dream vintage for Gisborne grapegrowers and the proof is in this wine, which at $13.99 a bottle is top of my Value for Money (VFM) stakes so far in 2008. And it's going to be hard to beat.

Thornbury is now part of the Villa Maria family of wines and the technical notes can be found on the Thornbury website - click here.

This was the pre-taster to the night's wines, which included four super German Rieslings, Four Syrah / Shiraz including one from Chile, and four other gold medal winning wines.  All of those notes are on my Wednesday Round-up page for 16th April - click here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 13th 2008

WOTW: Lochiel 'The Laird' Fortified Dessert Wine

You wouldn't expect to find a vineyard nestled in the eastern lee of Northland's Brynderwyn Hills, a little inland from the spectacular surf beach at Mangawhai Heads. But in this hidden oasis where olive groves dot the landscape together with an avocado orchard and a passionfruit orchard, there is actually a cluster of three. The location in King Road, Mangawhai, a couple of hours drive north of Auckland City, could definitely be considered Northland's newest wine growing region and it's all thanks to Liz, Gary and Rob Cameron at Lochiel Estate.
Click here to continue reading this 'Wine of the Week' review.

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

Remembering 1968 and Vintage Update

Tomorrow is the 10th April. It's my sister's birthday. Happy Birthday, Sis! I'm old enough to remember her birthday 40 years ago. My mother was taking me and my two sisters and my birthday sister's friends to the movies in the city. We were so excited even though it had rained all day. It was still coming down in torrents that evening and we got into a traffic jam going into the Victoria Street car park. We were all giggling and making fun and singing to the music on the radio. I can't remember if we made it to the movies or turned around and went home. But I do remember the rain and being stuck in the car.   Evidently the storm had encompassed the whole of New Zealand; in some places worse than others. The next morning, the rain had eased but the news came over the radio that the interisland ferry, Wahine, had hit Barrett's Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour and had capsized. It was a terrible tragedy. I'll never forget the date.

Can you imagine if the New Zealand wine industry was where it is at now, in 1968. In Marlborough they would have been right in the midst of the Sauvignon Blanc harvest. All those growers that hadn't picked grapes would have been tearing their hair out. Those who had picked grapes may even have had bunches or juice on the interisland ferry.

In 2008, forty years later, the weather forecast is perfect for the 10th April. But winegrowers in Marlborough are now wondering if they should compare the season to 1995 when a drought was terminated by rain, rain and more rain.

This year, downpours in the Wairau Valley the last weekend of March, and again last weekend put pressure on processing facilities with so many grapes coming in at once. The Awatere Valley has been a lot drier. Regardless of the rain, there's excitement about the flavours, especially in the Pinot Noir.

Perhaps Waikato will challenge Marlborough this year for the most flavoursome Sauvignon Blanc. All the growers there are raving about the quality. Simon Nunns at Coopers Creek says it is the best he has every seen while Garry Major at Mystery Creek says, " Waikato savvy is something you will not believe". It has really good passionfruit aromatics.

It's the middle of harvest in Central Otago and winegrowers there are a high with a record 10,000 tonnes expected to come off the vines, about 3 times the volume from 2007.

I'm offline now for a few more days. I may blog if I find a conection.  Otherwise, see you next week.

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

Toasting Marsden

James Busby (see yesterday's entry) is widely recognised as being New Zealand's first winemaker, but it is the missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden who is regarded as New Zealand's first grape grower. He evidently planted 100 grape vines of different varieties at his mission in Kerikeri in 1819. But I am scratching my head as to why he was so interested in planting grapevines if it wasn't to make wine? You see, before Marsden came to New Zealand, he had also cultivated the vine. He planted a vineyard at St Mary's, a suburb in western Sydney, in 1804 and named the vineyard 'Mamre'.

So, if he didn't make wine, why did he have vineyards? Perhaps he was what we know call a 'contract grape grower'. Or perhaps he was simply a nurseryman, propagating grape cuttings and distributing them to wannabe winegrowers.

Whatever the reason, Marsden's vineyard legacy lives on in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri, just a few miles inland from the original site. Established by Rod and Cindy McIvor, the modern vineyard and restaurant is named Marsden Estate in honour of New Zealand's first grape grower.

Vines at Marsden Estate - photo by Sue CourtneyMarsden Estate is planted with a range of grape varieties suited to the Northland climate. And of course Marsden Estate's grapes are used to make wine. There is Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinotage, Syrah, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.

I called in there last week and tasted through a range of wines. Among my favourites was Marsden Estate Pinot Gris 2007 ($27), which we had immensely enjoyed a glass of at our hotel accommodation a couple of nights before. It is full of classic pear drop with a rich weighty creamy palate, a touch of spicy zest and a clean stone fruit finish.

Cavalli 2004, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, was fascinating. A medium-bodied, user-friendly red with a perfumed aroma and plum and cherry flavours with vanilla tones from American oak and a savoury finish. 'Blackboard special pricing' was just $14 a bottle.

But it was the Marsden Estate Chambourcin 2005 ($24) that set the blood pumping. Deep in colour with big juicy succulent berry fruit flavours with spice, earth and underlying acidity. It was like velvet cream and reminded me a of blueberry mousse from the night before.

The star of the portfolio, the Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2006 was not being opened for tasting due to its triple gold medal and Trophy success. But we treated ourselves to a bottle and toasted the Marsdens when we arrived back home. Named for the 'Black Rocks' out in the Bay, this is a rich, oaky, seductive, full-bodied number. I loved it so much, it's my Wine of the Week.

Marsden Estate is open daily and wine tastings are free.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 6th 2008

A Spiritual Vinous Epiphany

I had a spiritual vinous epiphany on my few days away with the MG Car Club for the 2008 National Rally (hence no recent blog entries). No, it wasn't when lots of people asked what my license plate, 'VINOUS' meant - although a few clever ones worked out it was something to do with wine. "Vino, think vino," I say.

My spiritual vinous epiphany was going to the site of New Zealand's first vineyard, or 'vinery' as it was called then - the place where James Busby propogated the grapevines he had brought with him after he arrived in New Zealand in the Bay of Islands in 1833.  He planted his vineyard in 1836.

Waitangi at sunrise - April 3rd, 2008- Sue Courtney photoMy spiritual vinous epiphany was encompassed by

….. walking over the ground where the vines that produced the grapes for New Zealand's first wine had grown
….. standing in front of the house that Busby built
….. waiting for the sun to rise on a glorious Northland day, a day like Busby might have experienced in April 1838 when he was harvesting grapes for that year's vintage off his two-year-old vines
….. imagining the location of the vineyard - or the "fine grapery" - as it has been described in the literature, which was

- south of the cabbage trees because, according to Peter Shaw's book, "Waitangi", the cabbage trees were planted "as a windbreak for the cultivations".
- "Between the house and the flagpole", according to his grand daughter. This seems correct as the flagpole marks the spot where a marquee was erected for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6th February 1840 - and it wouldn't have been erected in the middle of the vineyard.

It was just before sunrise on a clear April morning last Thursday when we crossed the lawn from our accommodation at the Copthorne Waitangi to Hobson Beach and then followed the track up the hill to the grounds of the Treaty House. We should have kept to the coastal track as the grounds were not officially open until 9am, but the magnetism of the former vineyard site was too strong.

I wondered if Busby had awoken on an April morning, just like this one, and looked out the east facing window to be blinded by the rays of the rising sun. I wondered if it was a morning just like this when he made a decision to harvest.

Busby's vineyard and gardens were at their height from 1838 to 1844 but destruction by raiding parties during Busby's absence in 1845 and 1846 led to the vineyard's eventual demise.

However, there can be no doubt that cuttings from Busby's and others' vines, like Reverend Samuel Marsden's at Kerikeri a little further north, and Bishop Pompallier's at the Catholic Mission at Russell, across the harbour from Waitangi - contributed to the spread of early viticulture in Northland.

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