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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: December 2008
Dec 31st: Three wine connections in New Years Honours
Dec 27th: Christmas Day Wines
Dec 24th: Pinot Noir and Cranberry Relish
Dec 23rd: Puhoi Valley cheeseman serves beyond the call of duty
Dec 22nd: Passage Rock Viogner and other Auckland wines star at The Big Picture
Dec 21st: Getting Stoned
Dec 19th: The Boy's Best
Dec 18th: Compare and contrast two high flying Pinot Noirs
Dec 17th: Herb Flower Therapy
Dec 16th: 'Tis the Season ....
Dec 12th: An English Regional Wine
Dec 9th: A BYOW to bookmark in Auckland CBD
Dec 7th: Syrah Week: Two Benchmarks poured at Wine New Zealand
Dec 6th: Syrah Week: A Syrah Master Class
Dec 5th: Syrah Week: Six Syrahs (or Shiraz, actually) at the Wednesday tasting
Dec 4th: Syrah Week: Usually famous for Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir
Dec 3rd: Syrah Week: The Trophy winning Church Road Reserve Syrah
Dec 2nd: Syrah Week: Balanced perfecton from a precipitous site
Dec 1st: New Zealand Syrah has its rite of passage
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 31st 2008

Three wine connections in New Years Honours

Jane HunterJane Hunter, OBE, receives a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to viticulture.  Hunter's Wines is one of the original five Marlborough wineries of the modern era and after the untimely death of Ernie Hunter, Jane Hunter carried on the vision of her husband.  Under the leadership of Jane Hunter, the company is still going strong.
Her biography, "Jane Hunter, Growing a Legacy" by Tessa Nicholson, has recently been published. This is a book to peruse while sipping on one of Hunter's four gold medal wines this season, including sauvignon blanc and pinot noir with the pinnacle being the trophy winning Hunters Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008, at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
Link to NZ Herald article.

Brian Corban, QSO, grandchild of the late Assid Abraham Corban who founded Corbans Wines in 1902, also receives a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community. 
Mr Corban and his cousin Alwyn Corban, own Ngatarawa Wines.
Link to Dom Post article.

Michael Seresin, owner of Seresin Estate, receives an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to film and wine.
Link to NZ Herald article.

Happy New Year from Sue at

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

Christmas Day Wines

With a lunch and a dinner and a 'sleepover' at my sisters place, there was ample opportunity to open and taste some delicious wines. I was the winemistress and out of the box of wines I contributed, these were enjoyed on the day.

Sips to accompany pre-lunch nibbles

Waimea Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - Vibrant and tangy, full of delicious citrus and tropical fruit and gently herbaceous with a hint of tarragon.
Millars Mangawahi Pinot Gris 2008
- one of the fruitiest and tastiest Pinot Gris you will find - perhaps because the lower Northland climate suits this variety and produces PG with flavour. It's fairly dry too.
Spy Valley Marlborough Riesling 2008
- I love this Riesling - usually I go for the more Germanic style - but this is zesty and tasty and full of abundant citrus, honeysuckle and tropical fruit scrumptiousness and can be well chilled too.

Xmaslunch.jpg (58473 bytes)Traditional Lunch
(Stuffed Turkey Breast and Glazed Ham on the bone with new potatoes and salads - eight of us for lunch)

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 - this is a gorgeous Pinot and it's easy to understand why it has won gold at four different shows this year. There's a lovely savouriness running through this generously fruity wine with an infusion of Christmas spice making it the perfect Christmas Day wine.
Saint Clair Pinot Block 11 'Cell Block' Chardonnay 2007 - this is one of these Chardonnays that just flows - there's enough citrus to balance the creaminess with exactly the right amount of oak and a long, smooth finish.

Plenty of dessert treats followed - but no dessert wine.

Late afternoon

It's about 5pm in the afternoon and just four of us are left. There's been swimming at the beach and sleeping on the couch and general Christmas Day laziness.  We open the stunning Ayala Brut Majeur NV Champagne (a gift to me).  This is a beautiful bubbles with a rich, creamy finish. We drink it out of gorgeous Champagne glasses (a gift to my sisters), accompany the wine with a with a gorgeous selection of Puhoi Valley cheeses (my gift to the feast) while playing a new board game, Sequence (one of Neil's gifts to me).

Seafood Dinner

To accompany my crispy skinned snapper and truss vine tomatoes we open Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 but this was very disappointing because it had developed some canned asparagus/canned pea characters. The punch and vibrancy was gone. We should have drunk this last Christmas had I known then that this wine would fallen over so quickly? We resurrect the Waimea Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 left over from the morning - so much more vibrant and punchy and full of fresh young Sauvignon Blanc flavours.

We start playing 'The Wine Game' (by Sheila Hoffman). This 1972 game is like Monopoly, only it is wine estates with Soave being the Old Kent Road equivalent and Medoc being the Park Lane equivalent. When you land on someone's property, you have to buy wine. We play for a couple of hours until one of my sisters is bankrupt and Neil is declared the winner.  

Pegasus Bay Dry Waipara Riesling 2007 - sweeter than expected for a 'dry' wine and quite spritzy too, but a beautifully piercing acid backbone and an almost viscous texture. There's a hint of botrytis in there adding concentration.

Sacred Hill Rifleman's Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 - a glorious wine with sweet nutty oak, nougat, butterscotch and a hint of stonefruit. And just so delicious with the sweet meat of Alaskan crab that eat on the deck in the balmy evening air. Wine of the Day.

Then we play another game called Cadoo.  This is quite energetic as we have to act, as well as draw and sculpt clues out of clay.

Marc Bredif Vouvray 1997 - a little flat to start but better from the third sip. A full-bodied wine with a touch of honey and crisp apple acidity balancing the overall richness.

Sounds like we are a bunch of alcoholics, but the only wines that were completely consumed were the Ayala Champagne and the Sacred Hill Chardonnay. So there were plenty of left overs for Boxing Day, and the next day and the next.  We finished the seafood (scallops and salmon) on Boxing Day too.

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

Pinot Noir and Cranberry Relish

Christmas lunch this year is ham and turkey but every one else has everything under control. So what could my special contribution to the feast, apart from my herb flower salad bouquets (see Dec 17th entry) and of course a few bottles of wine, be? Then I saw the packet of dried cranberries on the counter at the local store and I knew what I would do - I would make a homemade Cranberry and Pinot Noir Relish to accompany the turkey and probably even the ham.

I opened a bottle of Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir. This is a bright purple garnet colour, not quite opaque in the core of a full glass. There's smoky, savoury, forest floor aromas with a hint of freshly polished bushranger's boots and then some cherry chocolate too. Savoury rather than overtly fruity to the taste, it's also quite spicy, as if infused with a little cinnamon-like Christmas cake spice with bittersweet cherries and a smoky disposition. Rounded in the mouth with fine textured velvety tannins and bright underlying acidity, there are floral notes to the finish reminiscent of lavender and pot pourri. I like the way it slowly creeps up and then grabs you with its arresting grip and then caresses you with a lasting, tasty finish. This multi-clone Pinot Noir from Earnscleugh near Alexandra, and made at Vinpro by Carol Bunn, has 13.5% alcohol. It's sealed with a screwcap and costs about $29.90 a bottle. I rate if 4.5 stars.

A glass of this wine would be relinquished for the relish.

Pinot Noir & Cranberry RelishPinot Noir and Cranberry Relish

I took about a cup of the dried cranberries and placed them in a glass jug to which I added the juice and zest of an orange, two tablespoons of sugar, one star of anise, a 5-cm piece of cinnamon stick and just enough Pinot Noir to cover. The cranberries macerated until the next day and then I transferred the jug contents to a saucepan, brought the contents to a gentle simmer and let it cook for long enough to soften the cranberries fully and thicken just slightly.  I didn't want to cook off all of the precious liquid.

The star of anise and the cinnamon stick were removed, the berries given a pounding with the potato masher and the contents poured into a dish, ready to take to lunch. It's been sitting, covered, in the fridge the last two days to concentrate the sweet spicy flavour.

Neil and I finished most of the wine that night for dinner. We'll be opening another Central Otago Pinot Noir, to enjoy with the turkey and the relish, on the big day.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 23rd 2008

Puhoi Valley cheeseman serves beyond the call of duty

At the beginning of the month I took a trip north to try Ransom Wines new cheese and wine matching platter. They are using a gourmet range of Puhoi Valley cheeses crafted by passionate cheesemaker, Franck Beaurain, who has recently returned to the company after several years absence. His return has immediately lifted the game.

Wine and Cheese matchesRansom Wines has five of the cheeses thoughtfully matched to seven of the wines

  • Puhoi Fiddlers Hill Goats Cheese accompanies Ransom Pinot Gris 2007.
  • Puhoi Mahurangi Brie accompanies Ransom Vin Gris 2007 (a Rosé) as well as Ransom Mahurangi 2005, a blended red.
  • Puhoi Te Muri Triple Cream Brie partners Ransom Barrique Chardonnay 2006.
  • Puhoi Mahurangi Strong Waxed Blue is divine on its own and excellent with the Ransom Carmenere 2006 as well as simply sensual with the spicy Ransom K-Syrah 2007.
  • Kawau Gorgonzola Style Blue partners the flagship Ransom Dark Summit 2005.

Every cheese match is very good; no surprises really as the cheesemaker and the winemaker spent an afternoon coming up with the perfect combinations.

So I wanted to buy some of these cheeses to go towards my contribution to the Christmas Day feast, particularly my favourite, the Mahurangi Strong Waxed Blue. But where to buy?

Ringing the 0800 number, which took me to the parent company Goodman Fielder Wattie, did not help as the voice on the end of the phone insisted I could get them in the supermarket and particularly the supermarket I normally shop at - Pak 'n Save in Albany. "They weren't there last night," I replied.
"Ring up the supermarket buyer," he said.

There used to be a Puhoi Valley Art of Cheese shop in Albany, but that has recently closed. So I decided to go right to the source - Puhoi Valley Cheeses in Puhoi - and what I should have done in the first place.

"Where do you live?" said the cheeseman.
"Albany," I replied.
"Well, I'm heading down that way shortly, I could bring you the cheese you want."

So I ordered Mahurangi Strong Waxed Blue, Te Muri Triple Cream Brie and one I had not tried but liked the sound of, a Vintner's Block Aged Cheddar. This is described as crumbly and sharp, soaked in red wine to add a slightly sweet note.

Puhoi MapHe told me how much it would cost and delivery would be free.

An hour later and the cheeseman arrives with my cheeses and in the package, for no extra charge was one he thought I would like to try - a Washed Rind Camembert. This is service way beyond the call of duty. Thank you very much, Puhoi Valley Cheeses.

If you are up that way, do call into the Art of Cheese at Puhoi. It's the first turn on the left, heading north, after the exit from the Johnson Hill tunnels. Carry on through Puhoi Village, past the famous pub and to 275 Ahuroa Road. Check out and for more information.

And when back on the main road, if you keep heading north for another 12 kilometres, turn left at Valerie Close and call in at Ransom Wines, then choose a wine and experience the cheese to match. There's more than just cheese on the platter because for each cheese you select, there is one of Marion Ransom's local produce-inspired flavour matches too (see photo above). Check out

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

Passage Rock Viogner and other Auckland wines star at The Big Picture

This week's Wine of the Week is Passage Rock Viognier 2008 from Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.  I quickly tasted the wine at Wine New Zealand in September and when I lunched at the charming Passage Rock Cafe in late October, it was the Viognier I ordered a glass of, to sip on. But I was reacquainted with the wine after going to the launch of The Big Picture in Auckland last week.  I just love the way the wine has developed over the past few months.   It's delicately smoky with a sweet fragrance to the scent and a texturally pleasing nutty, toasty favour with abundant peach and apricot fruit, a touch of spice and a full rich finish. It was also the wine I enjoyed most with sashimi grade salmon with nibbles at The Big Picture launch. Click here to read my Wine of the Week review.

So what is The Big Picture? Well, it's a concept that started in Central Otago where the cafe has an adjoining movie theatre where you can watch a movie that gives a fantastic overview of the wine region. It's a virtual tourism adventure where you fly to six vineyard locations, landing at each one to join the winemaker for a tasting of his or her wine. 

Big Picture Wine FlightYou have the wine in front of you (highlighted with a subtle back light) and as you taste together, the winemaker tells you how he/she perceives the colour, the aroma and the taste.

A couple of months ago a franchise of The Big Picture opened in Hawkes Bay and last week it opened in Auckland.  A Marlborough Big Picture is expected to open in February 2009 and there will be one opening in Chile too.  

The Auckland Big Picture has two movies, a white wine experience and a red wine experience that will alternate every few days.  Each adventure starts in Auckland city then zooms across to Henderson, up the West Coast to Kumeu, further north to Matakana, across the gulf to Waiheke and then south to Clevedon.

As well as Passage Rock - starring in both the white and red wine movies - the gorgeous Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2007 is in the red wine adventure, you have the likes of Kumeu River showing their outstanding estate Chardonnay,  Ransom Wines from Matakana with Pinot Gris 2007, Hyperion Wines from Matakana with Titan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Omaha Bay Vineyards from Matakana with Pinot Gris 2008, Artisan Wines from Henderson with both Chardonnay and Syrah and Twilight Vineyards from Clevedon.

It's a $30 wine experience including the tasting. Oh, they have an aroma room - this is the full set of scents from Le Nez du Vin

The Big Picture is at 22 Jellicoe Street in the Auckland Fish Market complex. The AFM website also has details of the free shuttle bus to the fish market from the city. You can buy the wines of all the participating producers to take away too.

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

Getting Stoned

Grabbed a bottle of the Stoneleigh Riesling out of the tasting box to take to a friend's for drinks and chose the Stoneleigh because it's widely available and easy to replace. It was a good choice for a late afternoon tipple.Stoneleigh Riesling

Stoneleigh Marlborough Riesling 2008, once in the glass, releases a pretty scent of juicy citrus and tropical fruit with a honeysuckle aura. Served chilled, the flavours are juicy and thirst quenching and reminiscent of freshly squeezed orange and lime with a gentle touch of honey and flower nectar. Seemingly dry, despite the 'medium' sugar level (10.5grams per litre), it is perfectly balanced and quite racy with lovely fruit richness and just a touch of sweetness on the lingering aftertaste. I must say, this went down very well indeed. 12% alcohol and a screwcap closure - but one of those rather smart 'Stelvin Lux' screwcaps that hide the thread of the screw. My rating: 4.5 stars.

Back at home I wanted a Savvie to accompany the evening meal so to stay on theme, I chose the Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008. This is not one of those exuberant 'leap out of the glass' styles, but it's distinctively Sauvignon Blanc. Grass, capsicum, some BO on the nose.Stoneleigh SB A little oily in texture. Gooseberry with some sweetness - perhaps cape gooseberry (and hurrah! my cape gooseberry plant has come back to life), a subtle infusion of soft leaf herbs and clean, green apple acidity build in the palate to a long, pungent, zesty tropical fruit-sweet finish. Chilling brings out a kind of tropical guava fruitiness - and makes the wine rather more exciting, so I recommend you do serve this lightly chilled. It has 13% alcohol and a Stelvin Lux closure. My rating: 3.5 stars.

The herbs in the Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc are slightly anise-y - as in tarragon and chervil. Thus I used chervil freshly plucked from my rampant plant to generously garnish the stirfry I was making for dinner. That was a lemon and herb marinated chicken stirfry with red and yellow capsicums and snowpeas. It proved to be a fine match to the wine.

These wines are often on promotion at one or other of the supermarkets. RRP is $21.95, which means a discounted price of $14.99 or $13.99 (save up to $7 or $8) is quite attractive to buyers who are looking for well-regarded names with a dramatic mark-down. It would be silly to buy at full price, that is for sure.

This is a Pernod Ricard brand. Check out for more.

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

The Boy's Best

It was the boy's Best of the year last Wednesday night, the boys picking the BOY being Kingsley and Sam at First Glass Wines and Spirits. Last week I took English winewriter Peter May and his wife along and they were amazed at the number of people who turned up for a wine tasting. Well, Peter, if you read this, there were even more people there this Wednesday. Being the last official tasting of the year and the lack of office Christmas parties may also had something to do with the record 'last tasting of the year' numbers and with 13 wines tasted for a $15 outlay, it really is a cheap night out.

The other thing Peter was amazed about was the fact that the wines are tasted blind, ie you do not know the label of the wine being poured. "You wouldn't get anyone turn up to a blind tasting in England," he said.

Well to me, that's part of the fun as you don't know what to expect.

What I did know to expect this week, however, was a selection of very good wines.

They poured

  • Orlando St Helga Riesling 2004 - also a BOY last year, it has a swag of trophies and gold medals
  • Beach House Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 - 3 gold medals this year
  • Saint Clair Pioneer Block 11 Cell Block Chardonnay 2007 -  also gold
  • Seifried Barrique Fermented Nelson Chardonnay 2006 -  ditto
  • Forrest The Doctor's Riesling 2008 - gold and trophy at Air NZ and just 8.5% alcohol
  • Mount Difficulty Target Gully Riesling 2008 - a stunning new release
  • Waipara Hills Southern Cross Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 - five stars from Cuisine
  • Church Road Cuve Series Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2005 - gold medal
  • Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - gold and trophy
  • Sessantanni Old Vines Primitivo di Manduria 2004 - gold and trophy
  • Penley Estate Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - gold medal
  • Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Founder’s Shiraz 2005 - gold medal
  • Grant Burge Miamba Barossa Shiraz 2006 - the little sibling to Filsell, this is outstanding Barossa value

As usual, for the notes, navigate to my Wednesday Roundup page.  

There are no more Wednesday tastings now until next year but the first of the year will be a beauty as it's all Central Otago wines. Check out the First Glass schedule.

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

Compare and contrast two high flying Pinot Noirs

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is generally regarded as one of New Zealand's elite. It is one of the original Martinborough labels with Pinot Noir plantings dating back to 1980. The first vintage was in 1985. Ata Rangi has won the Bouchard-Finlayson Trophy for Best Pinot Noir at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London three times - in 1995, 1996 and 2001. That followed a decade of gold medal and trophy successes in Australasian wine competitions. Ata Rangi no longer enters wine competitions in New Zealand. They don't need to. Over the years the wine has showed quality and consistency. The wine has earned its prestigious reputation.Ata Rangi and Wild Earth

Wild Earth Pinot Noir from Central Otago is new to the scene but with an illustrious track record already, the 2006 winning the overall Champion Pinot Noir Trophy at the London International Wine Challenge in 2007. The 2006 was only the third vintage for this Bannockburn-based producer, where the address is the famous Felton Road, although fruit is sourced from their vineyard in Lowburn as well as from Bannockburn. The 2004 vintage wine was a stunner and the quality has never waned. The 2005 and the 2006 received a swag of awards and the newly released 2007 has had golden success already.

So how would these two wines, both from the same vintage but from different regions in different islands, from vastly different vine ages and made by different winemakers, compare? There is only one way to find out - and that is by tasting them.

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 is quite a bit paler in colour than the Wild Earth - it is a more classic Burgundy red with a deep translucency when the two are compared. The nose is savoury with a sweet cherry overlay and in the palate the tannins are firm despite the allusion of smoothness. It is earthy, gamey and savoury with brooding smoky French oak and dark cherry fruit along with hints of yummy poached tamarillo and those tarter red fruits that fit in so well with the overall savouriness. There's something quite different to the flavour - very ripe fig perhaps - and a nuggetty, tarry layer that is heading towards truffle. Slow to start but expands beautifully in the mouth, building sultry layer upon sultry layer, finishing with a coating of chocolate garnache. This is the sipping wine. This is the thinking wine. It's long and penetrating and the afterglow lasts for ages. An excellent cellaring proposition too.

2006 was a 'dream vintage' in the Ata Rangi Vineyards with fruit coming from four blocks but mostly from the 27-year old 'Home Block'. Made from Abel, Clone 5, 10/5 and Dijon clones, the vineyards were kept separate during fermentation. The ferments had up to 5-8 days pre-ferment maceration with 10% whole berries and spent 22 days in the ferment tanks until pressing. The wine then spent 12 months in French oak barrels, of which 25% were new.

Bottled in July 2007, the wine has 13.5% alcohol stated on the bottle, a screwcap closure and was released at about $65 a bottle.

My rating: 5 stars.

Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 is a deep dark red with flashes of purple black, opaque in the core of the glass and with a ruby, crimson glow. On the nose it immediately appeals with its chocolate and cherry cologne and in the mouth it is immediately seductive with upfront fruit sweetness, chocolate, cherry, wild fruits of the forest, underlying orange peel acidity and sweet spices. It is rich, robust and round with an underlying earthy savouriness and a cosy cloak of mouth enveloping tannins. This is the guzzling wine. This is drinking wine. It's right at you babe, all the way. But be careful, because before you know it, it will be gone.

A 'classic' vintage from a growing standpoint, according to Wild Earth, warmer than the previous year, it is a blend of two vineyards - Bannockburn (Felton Road) where there are predominantly Dijon clones and Lowburn, further north, where the fruit is Clones 5 & 6. In all there were 11 different ferments, each with 5-7 days cold soak, pumping over and twice daily plunging. The ferments were warmed and inoculated with yeast with plunging 30, then 4-times a day. The fermented wines spent 7-10 days on the skin after the ferments were completed, then they were gently drained, tank settled and racked to 225-litre French oak barrels, of which 30% were new oak, for 10 to 11 months maturation before blending and bottling.

Bottled late March 2007, the wine has 14% alcohol stated on the label, a screwcap closure and was released at about $35 a bottle.

My rating: 5 stars.

I love them both however I can see that more traditional Burgundy drinkers will sit firmly in the Ata Rangi camp while those who never understood Burgundy - and perhaps have never tasted Burgundy - will adore the Wild Earth.

As both these wine are now on the 2007 vintages - just released, so this may be purely an academic exercise. Already I can say the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2007, quickly tasted on release at the Martinborough Winegrowers tasting in October but without notes taken, is a much deeper colour and more forward wine than the 2006, while the Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 has already picked up a very deserved gold medal in International competition.

The websites are and  

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

Herb Flower Therapy

I love herbs.  And right now they seem to love me. I have a bounty of herbs in the pots on the deck and around the garden. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ... it makes me want to break out in song. There's flat and curly parsley, four sages (common green, variegated, purple and pineapple), several different thymes and two different rosemaries but also mint, lemon balm, chives, chervil, coriander, sweet basil, Thai basil and my favourite of the moment, fennel. And many of them are going to flower. Red rosemary sage flowers (practically finished), blue common sage flowers, light purple-blue chive flowers, white chervil, white coriander, parsley just starting and, oh well, may as well add nasturtiums.bouquet.jpg (9409 bytes)

It reminded me of the herb flower salad bouquets I sometimes make in summer to fancy up any ordinary meal. They look a treat beside a piece of fish or juicy steak. Like this one I made in the summer of 2003. I think I'll make herb flowers salad bouquets this year as part of my contribution to the Christmas Day meal. 

NZ Gardener has just published Homegrown 3 - Harvest Your Own Herbs and they asked readers for tips. I sent in six and three were published, including my idea for these little bouquets. It's from my FoodFile back in January 2003. I called that article 'Orange Passion', as as you can see, the pictured bouquet is indeed quite orange.

You simply gather lettuce leaves, herbs of various kinds and edible flowers.  The blue common sage is perhaps a little too savoury and the pineapple sage a little too sweet, but taste what you have and see how they work. Chervil, coriander, fennel, chive, basil, Thai basil and nasturtium flowers are all very good. Make the arrangement and tie the bundle together with chives.coriander.jpg (54009 bytes)

I'm hoping the fennel flowers will last until next week. These are the most exquisite herb flowers ever - or rather their pollen, which is sometimes called 'spice of the angels'.   I'm collecting the pollen off about 10 bunches at the moment but the yield may be just half a teaspoon. This is sweet and anisey and just so heady and intoxicating both in aroma and taste.  But not all the flowers heads on a spike always make it.  Sometimes I indulge and zealously lick the pollen off.

My sweet basil has not gone to seed yet but when it does I'll be adding the white flowers to a tomato, feta and green leaf salad for a concentrated sweet basil flavour. This is delicious with a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc.

White coriander flowers have a delicate anise flavour and are so pretty as a garnish to a green leaf salad as well as adding an element of surprise to the flavour. My favourite wine with coriander is a spicy, rich Gewurztraminer.  chervil.jpg (41506 bytes)

Postscript 18th Dec.  I wrote the above last night and didn't want to go outside to taste the chervil flowers on my plant that is going absolutely beserk, as you can see in the picture. It's the first year I've grown chervil and, despite it being particularly tasty to sticky white flies, it won't be the last year I grow this culinary beauty. Chervil is often used in classic cooking and the flowers look like coriander flowers but have an even more delicate anise taste.  I'm hedging my bets that these will be the best choice for the Christmas Day herb flower salad bouquet. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 16th 2008

'Tis the Season ....

... to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la....

Ah, the festive season - shopping, parties, festive food and everything that goes with it. For me that's a gastro bug, which I'm putting down to a citrus tart consumed last Wednesday night after the weekly wine tasting. So to Peter who ogled my tart but chose the Christmas mince pie, you made the best choice. Hence my lack of blog posts and no Wine of the Week, this week.

I did post last Wednesday's notes though. The theme was Marlborough, Martinborough and McLaren Vale and my personal highlight the gorgeous, silky textured, subtle but ultra expressive Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2007.  We get so used to the full throttle Central Otago styles, we forget the finesse that our 'heritage' pinot noir region can produce. Pricey at $47 a bottle, but worth it, if you like this style. You can check out all the notes on my Wednesday Roundup page.

Oops, gotta run.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 12th 2008

An English Regional Wine

Last year, winewriter Peter May gifted me a bottle of English wine when he visited New Zealand.
"I've been checking your blog to see what you thought of it, but I haven't seen a review of it yet," he casually said over dinner the other night.
"Um, well, I haven't actually opened it yet," I had to confess.
Boy, did I feel guilty. So I found the wine the following day and popped it into the refrigerator. We opened the bottle last night.

Three Choirs label photographed by Sue CourtneyIt was Three Choirs Stone Brook English Regional Wine 2006, something definitely not seen in these parts very often. It hails from Gloucestershire, which after looking up on a map, I found is in southwest England, close to the Welsh border.

Served immediately after taking out of the refrigerator, this pale coloured, lightly spicy wine is quite full of melon scents then in the mouth it seems bright, fresh and zesty with icy lemonade flavours and a touch of passionfruit. It has an apple-crisp steely undercurrent and more 'mellow' apple on the finish and some herbal nuances too.

The back label says it is made from the Schonburger grape, otherwise known as Rosa Muskatt, which is a cross of Pinot Noir and Muscat.

It seems to me it has the aromas and fruitiness of the Muscat parent and an earthy, slightly herbal character that must come from the Pinot Noir parent. All the while it has a light gewurz-like spiciness too.

Made from late harvested grapes, it really suits chilling and although Peter said I really should have enjoyed it last year, and was quite disappointed that I hadn't, it seemed fresh and bright enough to me.  It has 11.5% alcohol on the label and the closure is some kind of coated natural cork. It's certainly not a bad effort at all.

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

A BYOW to bookmark in Auckland CBD

Next time anyone asks me to arrange a venue in the city, a place that serves good food, is voice-friendly and allows BYOW, I will know exactly where to go. It's Tony's Original Steak and Seafood Restaurant in Wellesley Street in the Auckland CBD. Not only can you take in your own wine for a small fee ($5 per bottle), but if you run out or leave your wine behind, there is also a well thought-out wine list with mark-ups so minimal for this day and age, it's hard to believe.

"Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $46," exclaimed visiting British wine writer and extraordinary Pinotage fan, Peter May. It was less than he would pay in retail in the UK, if in fact he could buy the strictly allocated wine at all.

I met long-time Internet friend Peter in person last year when he came to New Zealand with the Circle of Wine Writers. Now he is back with his wife for a second dib at our glorious scenery (pity about the low cloud and rain today) and, of course, delicious wines. He left it to me to find a dinner venue and although I had suggested the seafood specialist Soul Bar and Bistro, when Peter told me he preferred a good steak, I had some help from friends, and friends of friends, to find this venue.

Tony's Original Steak and Seafood Restaurant opened in 1963 and I'm sure the decor and the steak menu is probably the same as it was then. Perhaps, when you think about it, it is only the people and the upmarket drink offerings that have changed.

We ordered wine off the list because this time we did not BYO and, because it was a novelty for Peter, he ordered the Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Only the wine was so icy and the acidity so pronounced, the aromatics presented like a Riesling. The wine needed to warm to the room before it would express its pungent varietal character.

Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 ($55 a bottle) was my recommendation for a red. But this time the wine was too warm in the restaurant's 'room temperature' and the alcohol vapours coming out of the glass were rather heady. So Peter asked for an ice bucket and shoved the bottle in there for 5 minutes to cool it down.  That did the trick. 

Later Peter craved a desert wine but the only one on the menu was 'out of stock'. So I looked at what else was available and suggested the Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008 ($38) from the aromatics section. Lucky I knew how sweet and luscious this wine was and best of all, it was cheaper than the listed dessert wine and double the size.

I couldn't fault my filet mignon - cooked a perfect medium rare as ordered and the bacon and mushrooms were enhanced by the beautiful Pinot Noir. Good reports from the others on their food too. 

Tony's serves good hearty fare, especially the steaks that simply beg to be enjoyed with an excellent red. And if you bring your own wine, you can't complain if it not served at the right temperature.  But keep in mind the wine list is good and if you have a spare $190, you can even order a bottle of the iconic Waiheke Island wine, Stonyridge Larose.

As for markups, today Peter saw what they are really like.  The place we lunched at (Bees Online in Kumeu, under new ownership) had Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 for $70 a bottle!!!!  I suggested he enjoy a glass of the delightful Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008, instead. And enjoy it he did.

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

Syrah Week: Two Benchmarks poured at Wine New Zealand

Wine New Zealand, held last September, had a seminar I just couldn't miss because two of my favourite Syrahs, including's Syrah of the Year last year, were going to be poured. I would have loved to have had them in the tasting last weekend to see how they performed against their peers, but at least I got to taste these two five star beauties together.  And the winemakers were on hand to pose for a photo. Thanks guys!

David and WarrenPassage Rock Reserve Syrah 2006 - Waiheke Island
Deep black red with purple tints. Immediately opulent on the nose, which opens up beautifully with red fruit and oak spice. Lush and plush in the palate. Pretty and floral with rose petals and violets adorning the oak-embossed flavour - a round wine, distinctly Syrah with its peppery varietal characteristics yet dark and and brooding, as if to say, "I've got more if you wait". Velvety tannins let their presence known and the finish is long and lasting. A very complete wine, the style I like to drink and further confirmation that this is a 'Sue Courtney favourite'. 14.5% alcohol. Screwcap closure. Winemaker David Evans (on the left).

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2006 - Hawkes Bay
Rich in its savoury French oak profile on the nose, it's peppery with a Syrah fruit purity and very dry. Deep and concentrated in colour, this is a wine of pedigree and finesse - but I note it has changed since my previous tasting. The finish is amazing - it just sits there and stay and stays. The flavour profile develops and expands to reveal black liquorice, all spice, earthy gamey notes, violet-like florals and a black fruit sweetness. Very rich and powerful and the most perfect 'temperate climate' example in the line-up. 14% alc. Cork closure. Winemaker Warren Gibson (pictured on the right, and who is also the winemaker behind the gorgeous La Collina wine).

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

Syrah Week: A Syrah Master Class

"The idea of this class," says Vidal winemaker and master class tutor Hugh Crichton, "is to look at the different styles." So five wines, three from NZ, one from France and one from South Australia were poured for tasting. Hugh tells the 'students' that most Syrah around the world is grown in what is considered a warm climate. But here in New Zealand's more temperate climate, Syrah can still make a good wine - even in what would be considered a poor year for other grape varieties. Our climate, along with Cote-Rotie in France's Rhône Valley and the Yarra Valley in Australia, tends to produce ripe, aromatic wines rather than overripe jammy characters that are common from warmer climates. However, even in a temperate climate, in a warm year, the aromatics and spicy complexity can be lost if the grapes get too hot, or are picked too late. "Syrah is like a weed and has to be grown on less fertile soils to curb its triffid-like tendencies," says Hugh.

And so to the wines, discussed as pictured from left to right  …..

Syrah Master Class wines

Vidal Soler Hawkes Bay Syrah 2005 - deep red black with crimson hues. Peppery floral aromatics and dark red fruit flavours with an earthy leathery backbone, a hint of barnyard, lots of pepper and quite grippy tannins. A very fragrant wine but very very dry with a tarry savoury finish. 14% alc. Screwcap. $40.

Vidal Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2005 - similar in colour to its sibling, this has a truffle, citrus and pepper scent - exactly like my organic lemon pepper - and has me salivating from the start. These intense aromatics are layered with creamy oak. The lemon pepper note carries through to the red fruit palate, which is accentuated by big dry tannins with layers of chocolate building to a fragrant, floral and creamy finish. Overall it seems a riper, richer - and better wine - and the price quite likely reflects that. 14.5% alc. Screwcap. $55.

Guigal Côte-Rotie Brune et Blonde 2004 -a garnet red colour and the least dense in the line-up, this has a mellow scent with more than 'hints' of barnyard, the aroma carrying through and dominating the meaty, savoury, nuggety, tarry, liquoricey palate. There seems to be no fruit at all in this wine but about 30 seconds after the wine is swallowed (or spat), I get it! I get why there is an oft-used comparison between NZ and CR wines. With florals, black pepper, red fruits and a dry finish and the barnyard now a long way off down the farm track, I find a striking similarity to the Vidal Reserve Syrah. But I have to ask the question, "is Brettanomyces just an 'olde worlde' character than can be overlooked when drinking a $129 Rhône wine?" Other tasters in the room praised this wine during the discussion. I stated out loud that I thought there was just too much of the 'fragrant little yeast'.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Syrah Viognier 2006 - a striking deep black red, this wine has a lovely balance of fruit and spice. It's creamy textured and fleshy with an easy tannin structure and flavours of chocolate, mocha and juicy red, purple and black fruit. Great finish - long and ripe with spice and violets. The pepper accents are subtle when compared to the two Vidal wines, while the addition of 5% Viognier seems to add suppleness and softness. This, to me was the most appealing wine in the line-up - drinking rather voluptuously right now - the package. 13.5% alc. Screwcap. $35.

Wolf Blass Grey Label McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004 - Deep black red, just starting to fade at the edges, this powerful wine stands out with its opulence, oak and more 'warm climate' scents. The dominant oak carries through to the palate but parts to reveal vanilla, red fruits, cake spice, liquorice and chocolate bound together by succulent tannins with the spicy profile of the Shiraz grape characterising the finish. It seems out of place at first, but once again, like with the Guigal, about 30 seconds after the wine is swallowed all that is left is florals, red fruit and pepper. $49.

So four distinctly different styles ( I consider the two Vidals stylistically the same but the Villa Maria with the addition of Viognier a variation) - yet they are remarkably similar in some respects.

The event was held at Villa Maria as part of their 'Trade Day' with Syrahs from Villa Maria, Vidal and Esk Valley open for tasting at their respective stands. So I chased up the others after the Master Class was over and the styles still foremost in my mind. These are the quick notes I scribbled into my book.

Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 -$24 - easy going light style with a pleasing peppery flourish to the finish.
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - $37 - juicy, pepper and earthy with tight-grained tannins. Very spicy, linear and focussed with a decent drive of acidity. Concentrated with a vibrant peppery finish.
Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - $65 - Deep saturated colour, gorgeous perfumed nose, deep and complex yet has opened up beautifully since I last tasted it 8 months ago. Still a lot of oak but the fragrant peppery spice comes through in abundance. Creamy and long. Beautiful wine. My favourite of all on the day.
Esk Valley Black Label Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - $29 - spicy, creamy, quite juicy and appealing. Very good.
Esk Valley Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - $61 - a powerful wine, rich and peppery with red and black fruit and a long savoury finish.

Not much stylistic variation in these Hawkes Bay wines (all sealed with screwcap) - the difference is mostly the level of concentration. However, as the 'Reserve' wines are starting to creep up in price, on a value / quality ratio the VM Cellar Selections and the Esk Black Label really do deliver the goods. 

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

Syrah Week: Six Syrahs (or Shiraz, actually) at the Wednesday tasting

The Wednesday Tasting this week was "Bubbles, Sweeties and Shiraz" so it fits in well with my Syrah week theme because the bottom line is that Shiraz and Syrah, like zucchini and courgette, is just a name variation. However with the wine, the use of the name may give some idea to the stylistic variation.

So six Syrahs were tasted. Mostly from the Barossa they were-

Yalumba Barossa Shiraz Viognier 2005
Wolf Blass Gold Label Barossa Shiraz 2006
Morambro Creek Padthaway Shiraz 2005
Hentley Farm Barossa Shiraz 2006
Willows Barossa Shiraz 2004
St Hallet Blackwell Barossa Shiraz 2005

They were preceded with three refreshing bubblies, including the gorgeous Daniel No. 1 Cuvee Blanc de Blancs, and some of the most gorgeous sweeties around - including Lone Goat Botrytis Selection 2006 - which is the front runner for my Sweet Wine of the Year.  Click here to check out the notes.

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

Syrah Week: Usually famous for Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir

What's the first wine that springs into your mind when Marlborough wine is mentioned? Syrah? Yeah right! And what's the first wine that springs into your mind when Martinborough is mentioned?  Syrah? Yeah right!

But these two regions, respectively famous for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, can produce some awesome Syrah when grapes from the right sites are perfected by the right winemakers.  Hard to find, one very expensive to buy but both worth the pennies.

La Strada SyrahFromm La Strada Marlborough Syrah 2006 is a deep dense   rich berry red with very very little purple. Subtle black pepper on the sweetly spiced nose - the beautiful perfume is ripe, fragrant and quite beguiling. With a very smooth, sumptuous flowing texture, rounded tannins, underlying acidity, hints of leather and a suggestion of anise (think blackball lollies), it's smoky, spicy, savoury, earthy with a touch of chicory too.  To summarise, this is rich, powerful and sweet fruited with liquorice and black pepper spices, some warmth, delicious savouriness and an amazing long lasting finish with lots of lovely rose spice intrigue.   18.75/20.   The wine has 14.5% alcohol on the label and is closed with a DIAM cork.  At $31.90 a bottle, this is a veritable bargain. Check out for more.

Dry River SyrahDry River Lovat Amaranth* Syrah 2006 from Martinborough is a deep boysenberry red with a vivid brightness. Offering scents that are juicy, ripe and quite fruity, like bottled black cherries, it doesn't seem at first, very peppery and it has a point of difference to the ripe taste. It's massively concentrated, a little bit of tar amongst the roses and to put it one word, 'fascinating'. A big wine, very juicy with blue and black fruit, yet meaty and savoury, tasty, tangy - and yes, now the pepper is there while the finish has signature rose spice, violets, and also some chocolate. To summarise, this has mouthfuls of juicy fruit supported by a rich, savoury, meaty backbone with lots of fragrant peppery spices. 18.5/20.  
This is a wine with a very long life ahead of it. Tasted again tonight, 5 days after first opening, it is absolutely stunning.  Sealed with a natural cork, it has 13.5% alcohol by volume on the label.
*Amaranth on the label designates a wine as particularly rewarding for cellaring. The way this wine has evolved in the bottle would concur with that assessment. Mail order price is $62 a bottle.  Check out for more.

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

Syrah Week: The Trophy winning Church Road Reserve Syrah

It's one of Hawkes Bay's oldest wineries and under the leadership of Tom McDonald, the wines made at the Church Road winery became legends.  Now, over 80 years later, young talented winemaker Chris Scott is leading the team.  Another exciting chapter in the story is being written and the 'Reserve' wines are well on their well on their way to becoming 21st century legends. "Complex and textural," states the Church Road website.   Aye, indeed they are. Church Road Reserve Syrah

Church Road Reserve Hawke's Syrah 2007 is the wine everyone is currently talking about and not only because it is good, but because it took the supreme award at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards a couple of weekends ago. I finally got to taste it last weekend. It has a sweet smelling creamy oak aroma with a peppery signature and a cameo cream biscuit overtone. Smooth and creamy in the mouth with a velvety texture, it's juicy and succulent and full of plump purple berries yet has underlying acidity and grip. Quite meaty and savoury with a potpourri of dried herbs, it's like a juicy cut of meat with a spiced berry sauce which adds sweetness to the lasting flavours. Big, rich, juicy and creamy with an intensely long and sensual finish, I rate it 19/20 and No.3 in my Syrah tasting last weekend.  It's now in retail and prices range from $34 to $37.  It's also available at the Church Road cellar door. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 2nd 2008

Syrah Week: Balanced perfection from a precipitous site

In Hawkes Bay wine country, hectare after hectare of neat rows of vines march across the plains and over the highly desired gravels of former river beds. But as you drive along State Highway 50, Roy's Hill brings an interruption to the landscape and on the northwest facing slope you'll see a vineyard where the vines are anything but orderly. From the bottom they  zigzag back and forth across the precipitous slope on terraces carved out like a road to an alpine ski field. This is Bilancia's la collina (the hill) vineyard and the vines are Syrah. 

Collina LabelBilancia La Collina Syrah 2006 is a saturated purple red. Pepper, blackberry, hints of leather, rose petal and bitter chocolate tease the nose and the massively concentrated plum and purple fruits with an array of black and rose pepper and beautiful sweet and savoury flavours on a thick, plush texture fulfil the palate.   This is a full rich wine with warmth to the lingering, peppery finish, yet it has a subtlety to the alluring texture. It slowly seduces then leaves behind a memory that to me is like rose petals scattered over a velvet bed. A young wine, it shows an incredible amount of promise and the pleasing flavours just last and last. Bilancia is Italian for balance, equilibrium and harmony and these are all qualities this wine has. It has 14% alcohol stated on the label of the rather heavy bottle and a Diam technical cork closure.   I rated it 19.5/20 and No. 2 in my tasting last weekend.

Check out for more information and be sure to view the photo gallery and enlarge the first labelled 'hillside'.  I'm sure you'll gasp, like I did, the first time I saw it.

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

New Zealand Syrah has its rite of passage

"New Zealand Syrah has come of age" states the headline of the flier for the 2009 Syrah Workshop for winemakers and growers being held at the Chateau Tongariro next February (see The workshop is an important forum for winemakers and growers to improve their understanding of Syrah and share information as well as seeing what their competitors are doing. Unfortunately for me, wine media are excluded.

Syrah is certainly wooing the palates of wine judges with Syrah crowned the Champion Wine of the Show at both the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards both this year and last.  New Zealand Syrah also has also been eclipsing its counterparts from across the Tasman at the Tri-Nations Wine Challenge.

Here in the cyberspace and blogosphere, Craig Thomson of has named a Syrah his Champion Wine of the Year. "We felt it was the year to recognise Syrah," says this self-professed lover of Bordeaux styles. "I think any of the Syrahs in my finalists could have taken top spot. I was in a real pickle trying to pick a top Syrah and a top wine of the year. In the end the other  [KWFC] writers' opinions all went into the mix which didn't help a hell of a lot either as they felt the same way. His top pick is Passage Rock Reserve Waiheke Island 2007, "by a nose on the day". Craig liked its different stylistic direction and that it's "a little left field".  Click here to read Craig's KWFC review.

After tasting nine Syrahs this weekend, I totally understand Craig's dilemma. There are so many outstanding wines at the top end. It's only when you put them in a line-up like I did, that you can seen the subtle distinguishing complexities. Like Craig, I had difficulty picking the wine to take top spot. In the end I gave that honour to the Corbans Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 by a whisker over Bilancia La Collina Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006. I thought the 2006's had an upper hand over the 2007's in a side by side line-up. Interesting my top pick was only awarded bronze at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards but it did take gold at the Liquorland Top 100. Click here to read my gushing review and a brief précis of the other eight wines.

I've decided this is 'Syrah Week' here on and I'll be posting more gushing reviews over the next few days. But for now, here's my take on Craig's top wine.

Passage Rock SyrahPassage Rock Reserve Waiheke Island 2007 is deep and dark in its blackberry red hue. It offers a juicy sweet-fruited nose with creamy vanillin oak, the slightest hint of leather and spice. The vanillin sweetness carries through to the palate, which is full of cherry, red pepper and rose spice yet rich and savoury too. A beautiful fragrant Syrah with underlying acidity together with rose spice, violets, a dried herb savouriness and a finish that goes on and on and on. Just love the finish. Just yum. Almost orgasmic ..... with the afterglow. The wine has 14% alcohol, a screwcap closure and costs $50 a bottle. I gave it a score of 18.75/20 in my weekend tasting. That's a solid gold standard.   

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