Sue's Avatar


Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Rambling's

wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand home           Current Blog              Blog archives

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

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

If you want to make a comment, drop an email to and, if appropriate, I'll post it in the appropriate place.

Click here for this site's RSS feed.

Archive: January 2009
Jan 31st: Consumers are the winners
Jan 29th: Vale Ross Lawson
Jan 28th: Focus on Marlborough Pinot Noir
Jan 27th: An Expensive Whine
Jan 25th: Doctors' saintly prescription for carefree summer drinking
Jan 24th: Dry Riesling with a little bit of age
Jan 23rd: Clark's Boreham Wood
Jan 18th: What about Marlborough Pinot Noir?
Jan 16th: The Chardonnay of the Year?
Jan 13th: Book Review: First Big Crush
Jan 12th: A wine and food match that works
Jan 11th: The best laid plans
Jan 10th: A new vineyard hub in lower Northland
Jan 9th: A vinous tour of Central Otago
Jan 8th: Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-re please, of this pretty Momo Pinot Gris
Jan 7th: More juicy Rosés polarised in style
Jan 6th: Everything's coming up Rosés.
Jan 5th: Corbans history revisited
Jan 1st: Out with the Old, In with the New
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 31st 2009

Consumers are the winners

Lots of distributor and retail clear outs at the moment and while it may hurt them as they sell wines at or below cost or with very little margin, it is the consumer that is the winner, especially if they can make their purchasing decisions based on what their tastebuds tell them to buy.

Last Wednesday, at First Glass, it was 'Sale Night', a night where thirteen wines were tasted  - 5 Chardonnays and 7 reds - and all were selling at super sale prices on the night. Like the gold medal winning Saints Gisborne Chardonnay 2007 - a stunning vintage in Gisborne in 2007 and this just $9.99 a bottle. Foodtown has this at $19.75 a bottle full price and Pak 'n Save have it at $12.99 on special, so no wonder all stocks of this deliciously drinkable Chardonnay sold out.

There were a selection of Spanish reds and more from the Icono label, introduced last week, at just $9.99 a bottle half their normal retail price, and some beaut Australian reds. The Kirrihill Companions Cabernet Shiraz 2004 from the Clare Valley was my Wine of the Night - amazing inky deep, bright colour showing virtually no age, identifiable Cabernet fruit and then the spicy Shiraz characters kick in. I don't think any country can blend these two grapes like Australia does. And just $11.99 a bottle. A bargain. There was the fascinating Primo Il Briccone Shiraz Sangiovese 2006 and the stunning Tapestry 'The Vincent' Shiraz 2004 too, the latter at $23 instead of the normal $45 - no wonder it sold out on the night.

Tasting notes as usual on my Wednesday Roundup page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 29th 2009

Vale Ross Lawson

Ross LawsonI felt great sorrow when I heard that Ross Lawson, proprietor of Lawson's Dry Hills in Marlborough, passed away on Tuesday evening after a battle with cancer. Ross and his wife Barbara planted Gewurztraminer grapes on their Alabama Road lifestyle block in 1980 as contract growers. The 'fancy vineyard with no name' became Lawson's Dry Hills when they produced wine under their own label in 1992. I've been a fan of Lawson's Dry Hills wines for a long time, particularly the Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer and would have liked to open a bottle to have a drink in memory of Ross.  Sadly it was not to be but I did find an older bottle of Lawson's Dry Hills Pinot Noir on the shelf and it was with some trepidation that the cork was eased from the bottle.  Fears were allayed when there was no sign of leakage and the wine was in fine condition.

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2000 is a deeply translucent garnet red with a watery appearance to the fading edge - but still good colour for a nine year old Pinot Noir. Like a Burgundy in the palate, it has no really discernible fruit, just loads of earthy savouriness and a sweet vinous complexity.  Tannins are silky with a grainy nap and the finish is long with sun-dried herbs and bottled bitter cherries providing a memory of summer. From the Giles and Collett vineyards, winemaker Mike Just utilised open vat fermentation with traditional hand plunging followed by maturation in new to four year old French barriques. The wine has 12.5% alcohol and a cork closure. Ross, who was the first Chairman of the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative, would have been pleased that this cork performed in preserving this very good wine.

Just over a year ago, Ross received a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to wine and the community.  He leaves behind Barbara, three children, four grandchildren and Tomi the Golden Labrador. He also leaves behind many memorable vinous experiences in the Lawson's Dry Hills Wines that we can all share.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 28th 2009

Focus on Marlborough Pinot Noir

"Do you mind if I bring some work around," I asked my sister. I was staying with her on Saturday night while my better half was doing his petrol head thing in Taupo. I don't think she minded too much when she found that work involved tasting a few Marlborough Pinot Noirs and she was enlisted to help. We tasted seven wines, scored them, then accompanied them with barbecued juicy scotch fillet steak and mushrooms outside on the deck.

Forrest Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Forrest is the name and this wine is full of 'fruits of the forest' both on the nose and in the palate. A medium-bodied style, savoury and just a little smoky with a hint of chocolate, fruit cake cherry, a tingling acid backbone and plenty of earth on the finish. Develops nicely in the bottle with tannins becoming succulent and a touch of rose petal too. 14% alc. $30. 16.5/20.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
A concentrated smoky, savoury aroma with a sweet perfume of violet jam and dried herbs. Palate is rich and earthy with plummy fruit but there's quite frisky acidity too, which I found a little distracting but had settled when I tasted the leftovers with Neil a couple of nights later.  12.5% alc. $32.95. 15.5/20.

Isabel Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006
Translucent red, not as vivid as the others and not as vibrant in the palate - I thought I had selected all 2007 vintage wines, but the bottle confirmed it was actually a 2006. Aromas are light and floral with underlying earthiness and smoky oak that carries through to the firm textured, earthy, savoury palate with acidity that's quite dominant at first and suggests it would benefit from a little decanting. It opened with dinner in a big glass, becoming rich and just a little chocolatey with silky tannins rounding out the finish. Savoury rather than fruity and excellent with the food. 13.5% alc. $35. 16/20.

Bird Big Barrel Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Translucent pinky red. Very attractive Pinot scent perfumed with concentrated spiced plum and cherry. Savoury, silky textured palate with a lovely tannin structure that is fine and smooth. Tart red fruits are balanced to the delicate sweet oaked backbone and the finish is enveloping for the medium bodied style - the brightness just floats on the finish and there is that subtle touch of anise. A really approachable wine - lovely on its own and delicious with the food. $14.5% alc. $35. 18.5/20. This was selected as this week's   'Wine of the Week'.

Seven Marlborough Pinot Noirs

Seresin Leah Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Good colour. Bright, plummy, ripe fruited scent and a plush, creamy textured, savoury and lightly spicy palate with well-balanced acidity and a touch of herb that sits in well with the tart red fruits that have a touch of my favourite 'poached tamarillo'. Not as 'chocolatey' as Leah has been in the past but full of that elusive 'pinosity'. Good effort. 13.5% alc. $37. 17.5/20.

Jackson Estate 'The Vintage Widow' Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Saturated deep purple red. Closed down nose - tight earthy and leathery. Rich powerful palate full of spice and red and black fruits. Concentrated and deep but quite drying tannins on the finish, initially. Acidity adds brightness and the lasting impression is of a long, full Pinot with fruit sweetness. Opens up very nicely. $13.5% alc. $39.95. 18/20.

Montana 'T' Terraces Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Deep bright saturated dark red. A mouthfilling full-bodied wine - rich, creamy, earthy and mushroomy with oak reasonably dominant as well as grainy-edged velvety tannins at this youthful stage of its life and with chocolate and cherry adding to the overall allure. There's plenty going on in this Pinot - it is full, ripe, concentrated and varietal with spicy, savoury oak, underlying acidity and lots of sweet earth. But there's more to come and I would recommend decanting at this stage of its life. $13.5% alc. $39.95. 18.25/20.

All of the wines had screwcaps.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 27th 2009

An Expensive Whine

Where did you eat," I asked Neil on his return from his weekend in Taupo for the A1GP. He and his mate were camping in the grounds of de Bretts Spa Resort camping ground adjacent to the now luxury Terraces Hotel.
The restaurant at the hotel," he replied. "It was GPK last year but now it is now called Bistro Lago.  Simon Gault is Executive Chef."

"So what did you drink?"
"Hurrumph! We were not going to pay their exorbitant prices for wine so we drank beer," he exclaimed. And then he proceeded to tell me about a kiwi Sauvignon Blanc that he had never heard of before but the most expensive savvy on the list at $99 a bottle. A Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc and more expensive than the iconic Cloudy Bay, which was a mere $72!

Neil asked for a copy of the wine list and was obliged with a photocopy. My eyes almost popped out as I perused it. Some of the prices were, well, staggering - and sure to stop patrons 'staggering' out of the restaurant.

"The food was excellent," said Neil, adding that the balsamic served with his bread and dips ($9) was the best balsamic he had ever tasted. His chicken main ($28) was tasty and a side of vegetables was $6.50. The beers were $7.

But about that $99 savvy. It was listed as "East Hope 'The Gate Crasher' Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007".

"Must be made by Rod Easthope, the Craggy Range winemaker," I said adding that "East Hope" was an interesting twist on his name. But an unheard of wine even more expensive than Cloudy Bay, would anybody buy it off the list unless they were tossers with money to burn or the winemaker's friends?

There were eight SB's on the wine list and only two from the '08 vintage one of which was the cheapest, the Lake Chalice Marlborough 2008 at $40 a bottle or $9 a glass - a bright lively savvy that I would recommend. The overall cheapest wine on the list was Silks Syrah 2007 at $37 a bottle, not available by the glass. The most expensive (excluding Champagne) was Pyramid Valley 'Earth Smoke' Waipara Pinot Noir 2006, at $195 a bottle.

So what about the East Hope savvy. Google to the rescue, which led me to Jane and Emma's Independent Wine Monthly website.  Ah, a typo on the wine list, or two, I suspect, as they and other sites, including the winemaker's, list the wine as 'Easthope' and 'Gatecrasher' is one word. Now Jane and Emma also had a few exclamations when they read about this wine with a retail price of $59.90.    However they spent the money to taste it and while they usually score almost all of their wines this one is not scored, for some reason - perhaps because they didn't taste it 'blind'. Navigate over to their review, by clicking here. It's right after the introduction. 

"$100 in a restaurant compared to $60 retail," said Neil. "That's not even double the price.  A bargain," he said.  Yeah right! 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 25th 2009

Doctors' saintly prescription for carefree summer drinking

It's a holiday weekend here in Auckland, it's mid summer and the weather has perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky. It's been hot as hot.

Forrest Estate The Doctors' Riesling 2007 absolutely pressed all the right buttons when poured after the bottle had been chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours. It's the palest of lemon hues with a crystal clear lustre, the fragrance is citrus and blossomy and the taste is just so refreshing. Juicy lime and mandarin-like acidity balances the honeysuckle sweetness with a hint of apricot nectar and a lingering, zesty, thirst-quenching tang.

So there's a new release out now - The Doctors' Riesling 2008 - a gold medal and trophy winner at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, but the 2007, with that extra year of age, is just stunning. And it's only 8.5% alcohol by volume. Cost (if still available) is about $18-$20.

Following on from yesterday's posting, where I mentioned that last weekend we had a big family get together and I took the dry Wirra Wirra Fleurieu Riesling 2007, I also took a couple more 'medium' Riesling styles as thought they would probably have more appeal to the rest of the mob.

Saint Clair Marlborough Riesling 2007 is medium-bodied with tropical fruit, honeysuckle, juicy apple and citrus. Full of verve with a tickly gingery zest, it reminded me of a drink my sister sometimes makes and what I call 'Mock Riesling'. She makes that out of apple, ginger and lemon. When the wine is served ultra-chilled, it has a briskly tart edge but if that is not your thing, remember it takes less than five minutes in this oppressive heat for that tartness to go. 12.5% alcohol and RRP $20.

Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Marlborough Riesling 2007 was definitely the crowd favourite as it is a softer style of Riesling with sweeter citrus fruit that sits in the mandarin / orange spectrum. It has a fresh zestiness and a spritzy tropical sherbet tingle. Fresh juicy and quite light, which makes it a refreshing late afternoon or aperitif style of drink. Best of all it is not overly tart when chilled. 12.5% alcohol and a RRP of $17, though it does get specialled in supermarkets quite often.

Love these chilled Rieslings. Time to re-establish the popularity of ice buckets, I think. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 24th 2009

Dry Riesling with a little bit of age

Gosh how I love dry Riesling with a little bit of age, particularly Australian dry Riesling although there are some stellar kiwi examples too. Last August, when I named my "Top New Zealand Riesling Producers of the last 10 years", I had no hesitation in naming Forrest Estate as the producer of the 'Best Dry Riesling' in New Zealand.

New Zealand dry Riesling is really a bit of a rarity and for some producers it has been 'out of my sight, out of my mind' as I found out when re-acquainted with a Nga Waka Riesling at a Winemakers of Martinborough tasting last October. That particular wine, Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2003, reminded me also how awesomely good Roger Parkinson's dry Rieslings can also be. I remember a vertical tasting of the Nga Waka Rieslings in November 2001, when the 1993 to 2001 vintages, inclusive, were tasted - the exceptional 1995, then six-and- a-half-years old, the highlight. I gave the Nga Waka 2003 tasted last October, a score of 19.5/20 and it could quite possibly have been my 'Riesling of the Year' had I done 'Best of' wines for 2008, but I didn't, so we will never know.

I found out that my brother also liked dry Riesling when I took the Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2004 to a family gathering late last year. Consequently he received a bottle of that (I wonder from whom) in his Christmas parcel. So with another big family gathering last weekend, I took along a bottle of Wirra Wirra 'Hand Picked' Fleurieu Riesling 2001. Wirra Wirra is in McLaren Vale, which in turn is in the 'Fleurieu zone'. This is so my style of wine and such a treat. My notes state, "A rich oily gold in colour, it has a gorgeous concentration that has accrued with age. It's dry with naturally high Riesling acidity with a honeyed overlay and a tropical fruit and lime brightness." It had 12% alcohol and a screwcap closure - remember 2001 was the year the screw turned - oops, no it wasn't - it was 2000 that the 'Riesling with a Twist' campaign started.

We usually think of 'great' dry Australian Riesling coming from the Clare Valley, with producers like Geoffrey Grossett setting the benchmark. So what a treat to have this iconic winemaker's wine. with the Springvale designation, poured at the First Glass tasting last Wednesday. But it was the 2007 vintage and oh so youthful. Dry earth, lime, concentrated mid palate with a ginger marmalade tang and glorious length but you could feel it pleading to cellared for more reward.  With Grossett, cellaring is ROI and gosh, I still remember that glorious Grossett Polish Hill Riesling 1995, consumed in 1999 and it is still a highlight of my years of Riesling drinking.

But also poured on Wednesday night was Sandalford Riesling 2003 from Western Australia, which, like the Wirra Wirra, proves that the greatness extends beyond Clare Valley. Tasted blind, I though I may have a Forrest Marlborough Riesling in my glass, perhaps the 2002 because it had that talc, lime and toastiness that comes with age underpinned by vibrant acidity adding vibrant zing that carried the finish for so long. But Marlborough was not even an option when the question was asked. The brilliant Sandalford was even more attractive when we were told it was purchased from a distributor's sellout and the price was just $9.99 a bottle. Yes, it all sold out.

The Wednesday Rieslings are reviewed in full on my Wednesday Roundup page. We were treated to the Pegasus Bay 'Dry' Riesling 2007 too - but this is a totally different style. There were also some very tasty Spanish, Italian and South American reds.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 23rd 2009

Clark's Boreham Wood

Now this posting has nothing to do with a former PM of New Zealand, but the Clark Family of the Awatere Valley - the more southern valley of the famous Marlborough wine region.

"Would I like to review the new vintage wines," they asked.

"Why not," I said. With three sauvignon Blancs in the release, it would provide another opportunity to compare and contrast.Clark Estate Wines

Their first vintage, as far as I know, was in 2006 and although they call themselves Clark Estate, the 2006 and 2007 wines were labelled Boreham Wood. But with the 2008 vintage release there are two Boreham Wood wines - one named for Jane (Mrs Clark / Mum), while the third wine sports the Clark Estate name and the family crest.

All the wines come from family estate where Lincoln BV& O graduate, Simon Clark, manages the vineyard and oversees the winemaking. Last year's reviews give more background.

I tasted the wines on their own, and then with food.

Boreham Wood Jane's 08 Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was my favourite in the drinking taste test. Apple and capsicum on the nose and quite oily textured in the palate, it has that 'exotic' tropical fruit theme running through the wine - passionfruit and feijoa spring to mind with lively acidity adding a tingle to the texture and a touch of chili too. A rich textured wine with a softness to the lasting finish. 12.5% alc. $15 per bottle.*

Clark Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was my favourite in the food matching test. In the drinking taste test I found flinty aromatics with an herbaceous aura and a slight fumé character too. In the palate it's more lime and orange peel with a juicy, tropical fruit salad (apple, pineapple, melon and citrus) being enjoyed on the lawn with a herbaceous border beside the vegetable plot with snow pea, capsicums and tomato. 12.5% alc. $17.50 per bottle.*

Boreham Wood Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 seems a lighter lemony style with a grainy texture. Initially full of lemon, lime, zest and honey notes, it's a bit imitative of Riesling - but then that SB pungency kicks in and reminds you what you are really drinking. Tropical fruit and juicy citrus follow on from the herbaceous /tomato stalk scent and of the three it has the slightly sweeter palate. 12.5% alc. $18 per bottle*

tomato tartAwatere SB's are generalised with a tomato character and with tomatoes in abundance in NZ at this time of the year, tomato was the food match - well tomato tarts, actually. This was a blind baking exercise (more about that another time) but I eventually perfected my tart cases and filled them three cheeses - cottage cheese spread on the bottle, slices of parmesan and cubes of feta and ham with loads of tomato and basil. Simply delish.

*Prices are website prices, minimum order of 6 and freight to be added. Check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 18th 2009

What about Marlborough Pinot Noir?

In a discussion about the difference between Martinborough and Central Otago Pinot Noirs on the Wine Lovers Page wine discussion forum, my better half complicated the issue by saying, "why not throw in Marlborough as well?"

mart-co-map.jpg (26448 bytes)J, the topic (thread) starter, responded that Marlborough "added an interesting angle". However, such are impressions on her side of the pond (that is west coast USA), that while they aware of Marlborough Pinot Noirs, they weren't considered by anyone in the conversation that was the catalyst for the WLDG discussion, to be "as worthy as the other two regions."

Well, that's not the view from where I sit so I'm putting it down to the success of regional marketing initiatives.

For Central Otago especially, Pinot Noir is THE grape that everything rides on.
Similarly, it is Pinot Noir that put Martinborough on the map.
However Marlborough seems to be suited to so many more varieties than just Pinot Noir - Sauvignon Blanc of course but also Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. In my opinion, Pinot Noir from Marlborough should not be ignored.

I dug out some statistics for Pinot Noir red wine grapes to find that total Pinot Noir plantings in New Zealand in 2008 was 4189 hectares and 16% of New Zealand's total vineyard area, so how do they stack up regionally?

Wairarapa (which includes Martinborough) has 462 hectares accounting for 54% of region's total.
Central Otago has 1196 hectares accounting for a whopping 78.5% of region's total.
Marlborough has 1738 hectares accounting for just 10% of region's total.

"That," I said to J, "might help put it into perspective."

As for the differences between the regions, I have to admit I find it very hard to distinguish between Marlborough and Central Otago Pinot Noirs. I pick the region correctly about 50% of the time - and I know I am not alone in this hit rate. Generally speaking, they both tend to get very ripe fruit, sometimes a little chocolate, almost always a sweet succulence with gentle tannins and sometimes woody herbs. The best have lovely underlying acidity that introduces brightness to the wine and extends the finish. They have an alluring spiciness and the 'peacock's tail' in all its splendour at the end.

However, Martinborough Pinot Noirs do seem to have a point of difference, when compared to Central Otago's Pinot Noirs, at least to me. They generally seem to have more structure and tannin, more dirt, more game and more of a bittersweet red fruit component. They are just more 'savoury' overall.

I've been really impressed with what has come out of Martinborough from the 2006 vintage - on a quality per quantity basis and thus, for that vintage, Martinborough was my choice for NZ Pinot Noir region of the year. I haven't come to any conclusions about 2007, yet, however.

A comparison of two top flight Pinot Noirs, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006 from Martinborough and Wild Earth Pinot Noir 2006 from Central Otago, was a joy to undertake last year.  My findings are in the blog entry for December 18th 2008 - click here.

I'll repeat the Martinborough and Central Otago comparison this year, but this time with a Marlborough wine in the mix.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 16th 2009

The Chardonnay of the Year?

On Christmas Day last year, just over a mere three weeks ago, the Sacred Hill Rifleman's Chardonnay 2006 crossed my lips - several times. There was only one thing wrong with the bottle and that was that when sharing it between four people, it was just too small.  If I had named a Chardonnay of the Year in 2008, this well could have been it. The wine, the place, the people and the food, not to mention the bottle age it had accrued in the several months since previously tasted, made this a wine perfectly suited to my taste.

riflemansBut now it is being rivalled by its successor, the Sacred Hill Rifleman's Chardonnay 2007, my 'Wine of the Night' at the First Glass weekly tasting last Wednesday.  This wine is destined to become a star.

It is pale lemon in colour with a lustrous radiance to the hue and has something rather exotic about the aroma - a hint of lemon oil, nuts, orange blossom and apricot kernels come to mind. Quite youthful to the taste fine acidity balancing the glazed apricot and peach fruit with mealy, nutty, leesy flavours enhanced by delicately spicy, perfumed French oak. All this over a delicious savoury backbone while the warm finish has concentration and a permeating vinous depth.

I sneaked a taste of the leftovers of the wine when I was in at First Glass today.   They put all the tasting leftovers on a tasting table in the middle of the shop, for people to try and hopefully encourage people to buy. Well, it showed an inkling of how it night develop - glorious sweet nutty oak aromas and such an exquisite Chardonnay taste.  

Kingsley Wood wrote in his First Glass email today that this wine could rival the best from Australasia - including Penfolds Yattarna and Leeuwin Estate Art Series!

For me, I'm calling it one of the stars of 2009, already, and we are only 16 days into the year.

At $53 a bottle, I'm not sure when I'll be tasting it again. Still the Sacred Hill Wine Thief Series Chardonnay 2007, with some of the fruit from the Rifleman's Vineyard, is almost as delicious and at about $26 a bottle, is a more affordable substitute. I wrote about it in October, calling it "a baby Rifleman's at half the price".

Oh - all the notes from the Wednesday tasting are now available.  The theme was South Australia and Hawkes Bay. Click here to read them.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 13th 2009

Book Review: First Big Crush

crush-nz.jpg (12420 bytes)I'd heard a little bit about "First Big Crush", the story by New York-resident writer Eric Arnold and his year working in Marlborough at Allan Scott Wines.
"Pathetic," someone said to me when I asked if they had read it.
"Filthy," said another who then delighted in telling me about what he considered a particular sordid incident in the book.
"Fails to hit the mark," stated a review.
Nevertheless, when I was down at the library the other day, and saw this on the shelf, I couldn't resist pulling it off.
I started reading and, quite honestly, I found it very hard to put down.

The book is subtitled, "the down and dirty on making great wine". Dirty - well yes. Every metaphor seems to have a sexual innuendo and the "F" word features so much, it becomes a cliché. It is the way lads of Eric's twenty-something age talk, for sure, but rarely do you see it translated so frequently to the written page. If an excerpt of the book was read on the radio, it would be full of bleeps.

The first occurrence of the "F" word was simply attention grabbing exaggeration, he almost explains it as such, but right away you know this author is not going to hold anything back.

Nor does he hold back his opinions of the Marlborough winemakers. That's one of this things I really like about this book - he tells it as he sees it - and because I know most of the people he's writing about, I love it.

He also tells the truths that the winemakers don't want you to know. I mean, there are never any bad seasons in a vineyard, are there? You only hear how fab a season has been or you hear nothing at all.

It seems that once Eric had been around for a while, many of the Marlborough winemakers forgot he was a journo researching a book and dropped their guard. They became much freer with their speech once the tape recorder was turned off. As for Josh Scott and then head winemaker for Allan Scott Wines, Jeremy McKenzie (now with Villa Maria Wines), their guard was down all the time.

Then about a third of the way through the book I realised it had toned down. Several pages of writing and the only 'F' words were those like fruit, ferment, flow, five, fifty, Frenchie (a nickname or one of the workers), flexible, Fromm (another Marlborough winery) and so on.

The 24 chapters are split into three sections: Harvest, Winemaking and The Vineyard and the highlight chapter has to be "Juicy Guys and Meat Pies" where Eric invites several renowned winemakers to a wine and pie tasting. I also like the chapters where he maligns a certain wine critic (twice would you believe), a chapter on blending and his report on a stint as an Associate Judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Anyway, I loved the book and I'm a middle class, middle-aged female. I even laughed out loud in some places and then had to share the paragraphs with my husband, they were such a hoot.

This book was such a hit with me because Arnold is a master of humorous writing and makes mundane winery tasks seem interesting, probably because he's not writing about the mundane tasks as such, but the dramas that seem to regularly occur. He also writing about life in what is essentially a farming town. The book is funny yet informative. What else can I say?

Evidently Arnold was out in New Zealand last April, launching the book, most probably, judging by the number of radio interviews and articles I found dated about that time.

In this informative podcast from Plains FM, Arnold explains it took a little while to get used to the Kiwi turn of phrase.
There's another podcast from "Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill" on Radio NZ, but a little more serious, however, as those interviews tend to be.

I found the Eric Arnold website and that had a link to a Wine Library TV Episode where Gary Vay - whatever - interviewed Arnold. I was surprised how shy and reserved he seem to be, as if swear words would never be uttered from his mouth. Well, looks obviously deceive.

He is now working as a wine columnist for Forbes. I looked up a few of those columns and they are definitely not as racy as his book. What a shame.

As for that 'particularly sordid incident' that I was told about, well when you put it into context, it's just drunken lads being drunken lads. Yep, they sure did swallow a fair bit of beer and wine.crush-usa.jpg (8406 bytes)

That’s' the bottom line to this book, really. Wine is for drinking! And Eric Arnold says (in the interviews) that he has a particularly fond spot for New Zealand wines and Brooklyn's Down Under Bakery's Kiwi meat pies.

As for those who made those negative comments about the book or wrote it up badly - well you guessed, they are all middle-aged paunchy men, probably regretting that they were never young, raunchy lads.

Incidentally, the book has a different cover here in NZ, to that in the USA (see right). It's available at all good libraries. Probably in retail too. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 12th 2009 

A wine and food match that works

Food and wine matching doesn't have to be a science but trial and error is definitely a part of it. You have some food, you have some wine, you taste them together and either they complement each other or they don't. Like this week's Wine of the Week, the Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2007 ($22), matched to pork cooked with cumin seeds, fennel seeds and the juice and zest of tangelo. I had an inkling it may work but it turned out to be  one of the most orgasmic match ups I've experienced.  And the food is goddamn simple to make, too.
Click here to read the review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 11th 2009

The best laid plans .....

Everything was set for the MG Car Club's Annual Vineyard Picnic Run today. Everything, that is, except the weather. The rain that washed out NZ V West Indies One Day Cricket International at Eden Park in Auckland yesterday afternoon, hung around and with the sky weeping uncontrollably this morning, there really was no choice but to postpone the visit to Kerr Farm Vineyard.

kerrlawn.jpg (60207 bytes)Rain in the vineyard is good at this time of the year.  The grapes have not yet started veraison (where they change colour and the juices start to flow) and it's fabulous natural irrigation. But the beautifully manicured Kerr Farm Vineyard lawn, in its soggy state, would be ripped up by 25 MG cars manoeuvring to position themselves in between the heads of the vine rows, never mind the thought of a wet picnic blanket.  So the picnic has been rescheduled and I'll have my report on the latest Kerr Farm releases in about 3 weeks time. 

Back at home, I'm excited about my anise plants.   I had bought a packets of anise seeds mainly for culinary use, but I found what a good breath freshener the seeds are when munched straight from the packet.  My anise plantThey are sweet, they are aniseed-y and they invoke childhood memories of blackballs and gobstoppers. I had the packet in my handbag and pulled them out to munch, while driving home from work, just before Christmas. But I dropped the packet and seeds spilled out all over the car floor. At my suggestion, Neil planted them in a pot to see if they would grow and, hurrah, they are indeed.  It's a tangled mass of baby plants at the moment as the shoots accelerate their growth, semi laterally and crisscross each other. When the plants get bigger I'll try the leaves in salads and later on I hope I will be able to harvest my own anise seeds too. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 10th 2009

A new vineyard hub in lower Northland

In just two weeks time the Northern Gateway Toll Road opens. This is the new extension of Auckland's northern motorway over viaducts and through tunnels and it will make the trip to and from Northland quicker than ever before.  I've never really struck diabolical traffic on the northbound journey on the current but soon to be the 'free alternative road'.  I've struck slow traffic, yes, and annoying trucks puffing away as they labour up one of the three hills between Orewa and Puhoi. It was always the return journey that made it so frustrating, the traffic lights at Orewa the probable cause of the increasing build up that made it a stop/start crawl, sometimes for over 15 kilometres. So the new toll road, at $2 a journey, will make it more attractive to travel to the Matakana wine region as well as the extra 50-odd kilometres to the new hub of vineyards at inland Mangawhai in lower Northland. And it will make it a huge, huge difference to the homeward journey, I'm sure.

tomangawhai.jpg (95522 bytes)I've written about the Mangawhai wine growing region before, last April in fact, when I reviewed Lochiel Estate Fortified Desert Wine as Wine of the Week.  But it's time to talk about the area again because
a)  I've recently revisited there and
b) now the number of producers with wines on the table, numbers three.

For this latest visit, in December, I decided to use Google Maps to plot my route. It was not the best idea. It took me straight past the road I would have usually turned off the highway towards Mangawhai (local knowledge is sometimes better), we then got held up by road works and when we did reach Mangawhai, the plotted route to our desired destination was via a road that no longer existed. We eventually found our way to olive growing and vineyard hub at Kings View Estate, a former farm at the end of King Road, off Cove Road, that has been subdivided into life style blocks, and where the vines of Estuary Vineyard, Lochiel Estate and Millars Vineyard grow.

As explained in the WOTW review, Lochiel Estate's Gary and Liz Cameron were the first to plant vines here in 2002 after buying land with soils they had identified as similar to Matakana, but at a fraction of the price. In 2005, Millar Estate's Ross and Jennimay Millar became the second growers and then Steve Lay, the former farm owner, planted his 2.7 hectare Estuary Vineyard too.

Rob Cameron, Liz and Gray's son, makes all the wines at the Lochiel Estate Winery and they were all on the table for tasting, including a barrel sample of the bold Estuary Estate Chardonnay 2008 that's being bottled about now.

I was particularly impressed with the two Pinot Gris, both with fruit flavours you can actually taste. They had balanced acidity and a softness to them that made them easily drinkable.

Millars PG labelMillars Vineyard Mangawhai Pinot Gris 2008 has a surprising yellow tinge for the new vintage, as if it had oak - yes 1/3 was fermented in old barrels, I was told. So it's light yellow gold coloured with attractive fruit salad aromas and concentrated fruity flavours. It has a summer fruit freshness with an increasing oily richness to the texture and a full-bodied finish. Quite dry but the fruitiness makes it very approachable and the finish is long and luscious. 13% alc. $24.

Lochiel Estate Mangawhai Pinot Gris 2008 is more straw in colour. It's crisp, fresh and steely with a touch of passionfruit brightness. Quite creamy, despite the higher acidity, and a nutty fumé character on the finish.  Fresh and bright and again richness to the texture. Fermented in old French oak barriques. 13.5% alc. $24.

Lochiel Rose labelAlso a hit on the hot December day was the Lochiel Estate Mangawhai Rose 2008.  This is a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Gris - yes you read that correctly but the PG just under 7% of the blend.  It's a pretty watermelon pink with a scent of cherry and early season (Christmas) plums. Plum and blackberry flavours are the initial impression, there's decent acidity and just a bit of tannin grip, yet a creaminess to the texture and a more-ish finish like strawberries and cream. Made in a reasonably dry style, it costs $19 a bottle.

There's a whole range of varieties being produced on the three properties, including Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Malbec and Syrah and it all looks extremely promising.  The winery owners take their wines to the Mangawhai markets every Saturday and both Lochiel Estate in Brooke Lane and Millars Vineyard in Bush Lane are open every day for wine tasting. You'll find Kings View Estate at the end of King Road, off Cove Road, inland from Mangawhai Heads.  The Lochiel Estate website has directions.  There's also a beautiful map that was published in my wine column in this week's Rodney Times, available at this link.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 9th 2009

A vinous tour of Central Otago

The First Glass tastings started again for the year this week and the theme this Wednesday was Central Otago.  The lure of 12 Central Otago wines perhaps accounted for the biggest turn out ever (approx. 75 people) for the first tasting of the year. Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay represented the whites, then six Pinot Noirs for a regional foray into Central Otago's subregions of Gibbston Valley, Bannockburn, Cromwell, Lowburn/Bendigo and Alexandra.  Click here for all the reviews.

lowburn.jpg (24247 bytes)My Wine of the Night was the Lowburn Ferry Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 made with 70% of the fruit sourced from Roger and Jean Gibson's Lowburn Ferry vineyard on the western side of Lake Dunstan just a little north of Cromwell and 30% of the fruit from Bendigo.  This sumptuous wine is a saturated deep purple / red colour with a glossy sheen. From the eye to the nose, where I inhale a spicy, savoury, purple-fruited pinot aroma then to the taste of the smooth, rounded, sweet-fruited flavours perfectly balanced to the dry, savoury, earthy backbone. This is a beautifully structured wine with a textural softness that is very alluring. It has 14% alcohol on the label and is made by Carol Bunn at Vinpro. Price at First Glass is $38.99 a bottle.

The Gibsons usually send me a sample of their wine, but I didn't get this one and now they don't have to send it to me because I've tasted this three times now, first at the NZ International Wine Show gold medal tasting  - where it showed fruits of the forest and loads of wild thyme, and twice since then at First Glass.   It's really delish.

Check out their website to see the other critics' reviews.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 8th 2009

Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-re please, of this pretty Momo Pinot Gris

Momo Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008
part of Momo labelPalest of lemon in colour with a lustrous sheen, this has an aromatic, zesty, fruit forward aroma with a lemon grass or lemon balm twist. Bright zesty flavours of apple and pear fill the palate with an undercurrent of sweet citrus and an almost pineapple tang. Lightly oily in texture with a long full finish, this is a very enjoyable Marlborough Pinot Gris that can take serious chilling too. Sealed with a screwcap, it has 14% alcohol and 6 grams per litre of residual sugar with moderate to low acidity.

Momo means offspring and is the offspring label of Seresin Estate. The hand picked Omaka and Wairau Valley fruit was whole bunch pressed and cool fermented to retain fruit flavour. A portion was aged in seasoned French oak for three months to add texture and complexity. Aye, indeed this process has.

We opened this wine because we wanted something to match our chicken thighs that had been bashed out and coated in a sweet chilli and garlic marinade, Neil's 'whipped' mashed potatoes that he is now doing with warm milk for extra 'fluffiness', a side of summer salad greens freshly picked from the pots on the deck and my concoction of baby leeks and carrots. It was a very good and pleasing match.

Baby leeks and carrots
Trim the baby leeks and slice lengthwise and then cut the long strips in half - this is the easiest julienne of leek you will ever make. Peel the carrot then use the peeler to make carrot shreds. Warm a couple of teaspoons of EVOO in the saute pan and add the leeks to saute for a couple of minutes with a thinly sliced clove of garlic. Then add half a teaspoon of powdered chicken stock and water to cover. It will quickly come to the boil so add the carrot shreds and lower the heat so the liquid slowly evaporates. The natural sugars in the carrots and leeks help them to caramelise and the liquid evaporates it will start to thicken and take on a glossy sheen. This takes about 10 minutes all up. Don't let it totally dry out - leave just enough liquid for moisture. Add tangy, anise flavoured Thai Basil for extra dimension of exotic flavour and serve immediately. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 7th 2009

More juicy Rosés  but polarised in style

Tasted with the others (see yesterday's posting), these were first tasted out of the storage box, then again after chilling.

Askerne Hawkes Bay Rose 2008 ($16)
Askerne RoseDeep pink. Slightly earthy, Pinot-ish scent. Zesty brightness to the palate. An abundance of strawberry and cherry with a zesty undercurrent - even a little spritzy as it dances on the tongue. Tastes like a white wine with a berry infusion - which is what Rosé is, in many ways, made to do. Fresh and easy. A touch of raspberry too.  Made from predominantly Merlot, this 13% alcohol wine is dry and structured.  It only wants to be lightly chilled because overchilling brings out a Throaties lolly thing.

Tussock Nelson Pinot Noir Rosé 2008 ($18)
This receives the award for most improved after chilling. This slightly orange-tinged pink coloured wine has a light and delicate strawberry-ish, Pinot-ish aroma with a savoury nuance and is quite savoury with an earthy, mushroomy bloom and although it's moderately sweet, when it is consumed at room temperature it has exceedingly bracing and grimace-invoking acidity. Chilling somehow tones down that acidity and brings the 20 grams per litre of residual sugar and 9 grams per litre of acidity (this is high) into a harmonious rapport. Chilling makes it seem juicy, icy and refreshing with a bright and pleasing citrus zing. 14% alcohol on the label.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 6th 2009

Everything's coming up Rosés

I tasted lots of Rosé wines this past weekend and the six I liked best - after tasting both at room temperature and after several hours chilling - make a small posy bunch for this week's Wine of the Week review.  They are

25 Steps Pinot Noir Rosé 2008 ($25) - from Central Otago
Neudorf Pinot Rosé 2008 ($22) - from Kina Beach in Nelson
Waimea Estate Pinot Rosé 2008 ($23) - from Nelson
Sileni Cellar Selection Cabernet Franc Rosé 2008 ($20) - from Hawkes Bay
Muddy Water Growers Series Rosé 2008 ($23) - Pinot Noir from Waipara and Central Otago
Soho Hawkes Bay Rose 2008 ($22) - made from 100% Merlot

I found it interesting that both the Waimea Estate and the Muddy Water were partially barrel fermented, which give these two Pinot Noir Rosés more colour and much more body. They don't want to be over chilled, though.

I also ponder in my Wine of the Week review why Rosé is such a wine show failure, despite its rising consumer popularity.

Click here to read my WOTW ramblings

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 5th 2009

Corbans history revisited

Yesterday, while plotting a tour of wine routes 'old and new' for our MG Car Club Annual Vineyard Picnic that is going to take place next weekend, I came across the Corbans Estate Art Centre, accessed from Mount Lebanon Lane, Henderson. This is the former Corbans Estate Winery, which was purchased by the Waitakere City Council in 1991 from the consortium that owned Corbans Wines. The Corbans tasting room and cellar door still operated in the underground cellar until Corbans was purchased by Montana Wines in 2000. The Waitakere Arts and Cultural Development, established in 1999, took over the buildings in 2001. Now the historic buildings have been restored and they serve as various art galleries, artists work rooms, meeting venues that can be hired and a theatre in the former underground tasting room.

corbansmap.jpg (56964 bytes)

When we used to visit Corbans on the old Henderson Wine trail, you would cross the railway line to enter the site a little further down Great North Road (near No. 5 in the image), rather than the new entrance off Mt Lebanon Lane (to the left of the image). The lane was formed at the intersection of Lincoln Road, Swanson Road and Great North Road and as it is controlled by traffic lights, it is a much safer option.

Mt Lebanon was the original name of Corbans Wines, established by Assid Abraham Corban in 1902. It was the first winery and vineyard in Henderson and although the area of the winery buildings and former vineyard were 'dry', by crossing the railway line, sales could be legally made in the 'wet' area.

For anyone interested in the journey of New Zealand wine, this historic estate must be on the travel itinerary and it's easy to find.  If travelling from Auckland City, navigate your way to the northwestern motorway, which is also State Highway 16. Exit at Lincoln Road (Exit 16), which is approximately 16 kilometres from the city centre. Turn left from the motorway exit to follow Lincoln Road to the end, ensuring that at that point you are in the middle lane to cross the intersection into Mt Lebanon Lane.

As you enter the estate, follow the arrows to the left for the one way loop route that will have you driving over the underground wine tanks at the beginning.

The galleries open from 10am to 4pm and the grounds are free for picnicking and walking through, although groups can hire the grounds for special events.

Corbans Estate Arts Centre, Mt Lebanon Way, Henderson, Auckland

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jan 1st 2009

Out with the Old, In with the New

This morning I watched the sun rise.  From my vantage point on the North Shore of Auckland, it rose over the northern flank of Rangitoto Island.  It was a beautiful start to what will hopefully be a much better year. 

Last night we opened Daniel Le Brun Methode Traditionelle Blanc des Blancs 1998Le Brun B d B label produced by Marlborough wine company Cellier Le Brun and what a gorgeous, gorgeous wine to toast 'good luck' in 2009. The cork was gently eased, the sound of the pop and the puff of gaseous 'smoke' were the first signals this 10-year-old might just be okay. The light gold colour as the wine was poured with a head of foamy mousse had no sign of the pox (premature oxidation) that has plagued random bottles of older Cellier Le Brun bubblies. Offering a pleasing yeasty nutty aroma and a creamy almost butterscotch flavour with an elegant backbone of fine acidity, this was an exceptional start to out 2008. The wine was successfully paired to smoked salmon with a horseradish cream cheese spread.

Daniel Le Brun Methode Traditionelle Blanc des Blancs 1998 was made by Alan McWilliams, who carried on the fine wine making tradition set by the label's namesake, Daniel le Brun the man, who sold his brand and business, Cellier Le Brun, in 1996. Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes,the richness comes from maturing on yeast lees for a minimum of five years. At 10 years old, this is a remarkably fine wine. Is it still available? I'm sorry, I don't know. The brand was sold to Brian Bicknell (Mahi Wines), who bought the Cellier le Brun winery and all its stock in 2006.  It is now distributed by Lion Nathan according to the Le Brun website.

Other wines opened last night included
Cloudy Bay Martinborough Riesling 2004 - very dry, spicy and zesty, just a little oily and with a definite citrussy tang. A wine that needs food and was accompanied successfully with dolmades, the acidity in the wine providing a perfect foil to the oiliness of the food.

Sepp Moser 'Breiter Rain' Gruner Veltliner 2006 - orange honey, nougat, flower blossoms and spice with a hint of butterscotch and a tangy brightness.   Played wine options on this wine.  No-one picked Austria  - why would they? But this wine is one of Austria's best.

Ngatarawa Alwyn Chardonnay 2006 - a subtle and expressive Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with spicy oak in just the right proportion, a touch of malolactic adding creaminess and an expansive nutty finish.  Nice with fresh corn on the cob. 

Dry River Martinborough Chardonnay 2007 - such a different wine to the Alwyn, this is fragrantly scented with exotic spice and cashew nuts and the palate is mealy heading to malty with delicately smoky spicy oak and a heady richness despite the lighter 13% alcohol with an underpinning of citrus zest adding a dancing brightness.   Just beautiful.   

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2007 - from Waiheke Island, this is a massively concentrated beast  - too big for me and I made the comment it should have been decanted. Neil said "maybe". That didn't deter him from drinking it. A peppery accompaniment to BBQ'ed scotch fillet steak.

Montana Terroir Series Gabriel's Gully Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 - a sweet-fruited, gentle wine with cherry and plum fruit and a smoky, spicy, savoury disposition.  I preferred this with the steak on the night.

CitrusTart & Ice WIneInniskillin Sparkling Vidal Ice Wine 2005 - from Canada, the grapes are picked at temperatures of at least -10 degrees C. An absolute treat, it smells like a decadent sweet wine and has all the honey and botrytis flavour traits too, but the fizz is such a surprise.  This was matched to a citrus tart topped with tangelo and lime slices, a few apricots and the syrup they had all cooked in.

Tonight I watched the sun set in the western sky at the end of a glorious New Years Day. Neil had one of his photographs published in the New Zealand Herald this morning. The new moon is watching Venus as together they slope towards their setting points. I'm sipping on the remains of the Dry River Chardonnay - it's even better today. 

Current Blog
Previous Entries
Following Entries

Complete Blog Archive home

copyright Sue Courtney 2009