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

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Archive: April 2009
Apr 30th: Focus on Nelson: Part 9 - Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer
Apr 28th: Impressionable Chardonnays - Oaked and Unoaked
Apr 26th: Cleaning out the spare room
Apr 25th: Wine Tasting for the Car Club
Apr 24th: Tasting Gold
Apr 21st: Saturday Night Superstars
Apr 20th: Focus on Nelson: Part 8 - Riesling
Apr 19th: Focus on Nelson: Part 7 - Chardonnay
Apr 17th: Focus on Nelson: Part 6 - Bordeaux Styled Reds
Apr 14th: File backups / Easter in New Plymouth / What is Vintage?
Apr 9th: Focus on Nelson: Part 5 - Where to go
Apr 8th: Focus on Nelson: Part 4 - More Pinot Noirs
Apr 6th: Focus on Nelson: Part 3 - Aromatics with Spicy Thai
Apr 5th: Ten years of First Glass tastings
Apr 3rd: Focus on Nelson: Part 2 - Waimea's Pinots
Apr 1st: Focus on Nelson: Part 1 - Syrah
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 30th 2009

Focus on Nelson: Part 9 - Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer

Nelson prides itself as the aromatic capital of New Zealand and was the proud host of New Zealand's first 'Aromatic Symposium' in 2007. The inaugural event included only Riesling and Pinot Gris. I was surprised Gewurztraminer was omitted - after all, it is highly aromatic and distinctive. Gewurztraminer will be included in the second 'Aromatic Symposium' being held in Nelson on February 6th 2010 (see

It's the end of the month and time to wrap up my Nelson Focus with a tasting of my leftover aromatics. However, as I had tasted all the Riesling in my previous focus session (see April 20th), there was only Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer left to taste.

The Pinot Gris's were a revelation. I didn't expect them to be highly aromatic - in fact I was prepared for aromas that were neutral and perhaps even a little dull - it's Pinot Gris after all, so I was not disappointed when if a particular wine's aromatics lived up to my expectations. But it was the richness and fruit weight in the palate, particularly of the 2008 vintage wines, that excelled. Given recent tastings of other 208 vintage Nelson region Pinot Gris's, particularly Blackenbrook, Rimu Grove, Te Mania and Woollaston, this was not too unexpected.

Waimea Estate Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 ($22 14.5% alc.) received my only gold medal (five star) rating. This is a voluptuous mouthfilling style with orange rind-infused tropical fruit and nectarine with classic pear flavours popping out the end - and surprisingly finishing dry.

Three bridesmaids with silver medal equivalent ratings

Neudorf Maggie's Block Pinot Gris 2008 ($24, 14.5% alc.) - a juicy wine with alcohol warmth cut by zesty acidity and a slight spritz to the texture. Upfront peach-like fruit gives way to concentrated spice-infused pear. With a light lime gold hue, it is the palest wine in the line-up and reasonably dry, too.

Spinyback Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 ($17, 14.5% alc.) - quite linear to start with a steely undercurrent to the pear and apple flavours, then apricot, tangelo and Asian spices come out to play. Clean, well made and stylish.

Tussock Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 ($15, 13.5% alc.) - an array of flavours from citrus zest to pear with a steely backbone and apple emerging on the finish. There's a soft, warm, richness too.

Lastly bronze medals to the light styled Tohu Pinot Gris 2008 ($20, 13% alc.) - a blend of Nelson and Gisborne fruit, and Kaimira Brightwater Pinot Gris 2007 ($20, 14.9% alc.)- a mealy style from aging on yeast lees and alcohol adding to the overall richness. Ripe fruit, hot spices and a luscious factor.

Just two Gewurztraminers to taste and my expectations were high, given the track record of some of this region's GW's. We had the double gold medal winning Seifried Winemaker's Collection Gewurztraminer 2008 at a Wednesday night tasting just recently and Anchorage Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008 was a Wine of the Week at the beginning of the month.

Waimea Nelson Gewurztraminer is no stranger to gold medals either and I gave this rating to the 2008 ($22, 14.5% alc.) - intense, rich, powerful and delicious with Turkish delight, lychee, citrus, white pepper and ginger-like spices - it gets better and better with time in the glass.

Kaimira Brightwater Gewurztraminer 2007 ($20, 14% alc.) is a more restrained style - shy on the nose but vibrant in flavour - a pretty wine with Asian spices, flower musk and sweetness to the finish. I rated it bronze medal quality.

Over the month of tastings - tasted blind when possible and tasted over hours, not minutes, with accompanying food, I am staggered by the success of Waimea Estate in almost every tasting they were included in. They obviously make wines that I like.

Now I'm looking forward to the Nelson Winemakers tour in October - only down side to that is that it is a stand up tasting, rushing from producer to producer and not tasting blind - notes are scribbled in a hurry and wines are not scored. They new vintages wines will be from 2009 - will they be as good as the 2008's? We'll see.

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

Impressionable Chardonnays - Oaked and Unoaked

A lineup of Chardonnay in the weekend had wines that impressed from the outset with their full bodied aromas and flavours and two wines in particular leapt out of the glass to seduce me. It was a contrast to a tasting the previous week where the sparks failed to fly.

Favourite wine of the tasting was Dolbel Estate Chardonnay 2007 from Hawkes Bay - a wine that had  benefited from time in the bottle and proudly expressed its origin with classic Hawkes Bay peachy fruit wrapped in butterscotch and toasty oak.   A relatively new label but from the estate vineyard planted 19 years before this vintage and with ex-Church Road winemaker Tony Pritchard calling the shots in the winery. With a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, it is this week's Wine of the Week - click here to read the review.

Hot on Dolbel's heels was Black Estate Chardonnay 2007 from Waipara. A more delicate style, mealy and citrussy, it's starts off being rather more tight and focussed but expands beautifully in the mouth and finishes with a mealy savouriness. It's medium to full-bodied, but always has that delicate touch that disguises the underlying power. A class act.  $29.95 and also rated 4.5 stars. See

Mahi Twin Valleys Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 from Marlborough was next in the lineup. It's a rich, malty, savoury number with a complex leesy infusion to the spicy barrel-ferment scents with some hints of butterscotch too. The profound maltiness carries through to the palate with is smoky and savoury with grilled peach, melon and prosciutto.   Quite honestly I don't like this as much as previous Mahi's. A bit too funky, maybe.  $34. I rated it 4 stars.

In comparison to the first three, Astrolabe Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 seemed fresh and simple with little indication of oak on the nose, that freshness carrying through to the palate where some toasty nuances kick in and say 'Hey, I do have oak, so there". A creamy textured wine no doubt benefiting from malolactic fermentation to tone down the zesty acidity that drives the wine, it is an easy going, medium-bodied style with a mealy savoury undercurrent and a touch of sweet orange on the lingering finish. Becomes more sophisticated with time in the glass. I rated it 3.5 stars. $26.

Cape Campbell Marlborough Chardonnay 2008 is a juicy, tropical fruited Chardonnay with a light savoury backbone and hints of banana and the oak that is so very subtle. An easy-going style on the light side of medium bodied, it's clean, fruity and bright. 3 stars. $20.

Also tasted, a quartet of unoaked Chardonnays. Quite honestly, when you find an oaked Chardonnay that is well made, you realised why oak and Chardonnay go together and it is hard to see the attraction of unoaked Chardonnay but there must be a market otherwise winemakers wouldn't persevere.

Murdoch James Martinborough Blue Rock Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 - bright, zesty and spicy with fresh tropical fruit and stone fruit with well balanced citrus-like acidity and a pleasing mealy savouriness from aging on yeast lees, this is a light to medium-bodied alternative to Pinot Gris - and better than many of those often far too neutral wines. 3.5 stars for quality but at $27 full price, it is far too expensive.

Alexia by Jane Cooper Unoaked Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 - quite savoury and leesy with a 'fizzy fruit' sherbet-like infusion to the juicy tropical fruit and pear-like flavours and a reasonable medium to full body. 3 stars. $19.95.

Wishart Hawkes Bay Te Puriri Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 - a little 'soapy' on the nose - palmolive perhaps. Smooth and lightly oily in the palate with lime and subtle stonefruit and some savoury herb nuances, it is quite dry with a leesy mealy richness and a fresh peach finish. 2.5 stars. $18.50.

Spy Valley Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 - an immediate impression of sweet fruit in the palate - apple, citrus, orange sherbet, and a hint of pineapple. Light to medium-bodied in palate weight and well rounded with a creamy texture and lots of juicy appeal. 3.5 stars and at about $17 RRP, it makes it the best of the four unoaked wines.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 26th 2009

Cleaning out the spare room

My spare bedroom has become the wine room, but with my long time friend from Australia coming to stay in the first week of May, the wine has to move. In the process, I found wines that really should be drunk, or, in some cases, should have been drunk years ago. These are the wines we opened.

Timara RRTimara Riesling 2005 - Wine of New Zealand
Rich yellow gold. Concentrated sweet tropical fruit infused with lime on the nose and a touch of that toastiness that comes with age. Quite sweet with apricot and orange-citrus in the palate and a candle wax nuance, the texture is a waxy too. Lacks oomph and begs for a little more acidity, but actually still quite acceptable - 'as a drink'. I know my brother in law would like it. Would go really well with spicy Asian food. Put this in the freezer for 30 minutes. Wow - chilling enhances the aromatics and adds a spicy zing to the palate. 12.5% alcohol. Screwcap. I give it 3 stars. Worked with our ham steak dinner too.

Robard & Butler Curico Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2005 - Chile
Light yellow gold with a bright citrine glow. Smoky on the nose - fumé - with very subtle tropical fruit / baked apple. Quite hard to put your finger on just what this is when you taste it. Smoky, becoming a little toasty, exotic tropical fruit and green melon, alcohol heat, underlying acidity, a butter-tinged oiliness to the texture and smoky struck match characters on the finish. Certainly fills the mouth with a pungency that SB is renowned for - but not the delicious pungency that SB is renowned for. 12.5% alcohol. Screwcap. 2 stars.

Ti Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Light yellow gold with a bright citrine glow. Full of canned green pea juices on the nose with some confectionary citrus pushing through, it's a classic example of why so many winemakers say to drink SB when its young - because the developed characters of this wine are just not very attractive. The canned pea dominates the now creamy palate with a candied tropical fruit sweetness and sweet pea too but amazingly citrus acidity and underlying herbaceousness brings a welcome lift and zing to finish to remember the wine's former beauty. 13% alc. Screwcap. 2 stars.

Louis Latour Macon Villages Chameroy 2001
Cork in really good condition - very tight with a excellent 'pop' - oh the romance - yeah right! Bright yellow gold. Almond, marzipan and Brie aroma - not very appealing in this context. The nuttiness dominates the palate that is characterised by a steely backbone. The wine tastes dull despite a hint of citrus and stonefruit pushing through the creamy/cheesy finish. The only really redeeming quality is the warm, alcohol glow. Probably would have been alright seven years ago, now it's over the hill. 13% alcohol. Cork closure. 1 star.

Shuttle ChardonnayHardys Shuttle Chardonnay 2007 - 187ml bottle - 1.9 standard drinks
Cute PET bottle with a plastic glass attached to the screwcap - a bit of a trick to open it - just keep turning, turning, turning. I wonder how sterile the plastic glass is - you never know where the hands have been that packed the wine, unpacked the wine, stocked the shelves, and sold the wine. But it's a good idea, nevertheless. However, you probably need to drink it within minutes of vintage as my sample is stuffed, ie oxidised. It's become quite aldehydic & nutty with no redeeming qualities except for the sweet alcohol that clocks in at 13%. But in its favour, it did say 'Drink before October 2008'. Be sure to check the 'Use By' date. 0 stars

Hardys Shuttle Shiraz 2006 - 187ml bottle - 2 standard drinks
This says best before Feb 2009, so we are 2 months beyond the 'Use By date'. Colour looks good - deep dense, blackberry red in the plastic glass. Shows promise on the nose- not that this 'glass' really reveals too many nuances. A sweet, juicy little number, concentrated blackberry, a hint of chocolate and firm succulent tannins holding the wine together. Some chocolate and cherry, with a hint of mocha. Must be consumed from the provided plastic glass for best effect. 13.5% alcohol. 3 stars

L L Beaujolais VLouis Latour Beaujolais Villages 2002
Made from Gamay grapes, this is a translucent garnet colour, showing some bricking to the hue. Savoury on the nose and just a little smoky and earthy with the merest hint of cherry, a hint of liquorice that's also on the nose carries through to the light to medium-bodied smoky palate. Tannins have some grip, it's slightly metallic mid palate and there's plenty of vinosity and sweetness to the fruitcake finish that lingers with a pretty, violet infusion. A real surprise. Just love the lasting aftertaste. 13% alcohol. Cork closure. 3.5 stars.

Wyndham Estate Bin 444 Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 - 187ml bottle.
Again a struggle to get the 'short skirt' screwcap off but worth it. Black in the core of the glass with fading purple garnet edges. This is so Australian Cabernet on the nose - cedar, cassis and mint hints of excitement within the glass but for me the sweet, jammy, juicy medium-bodied palate is let down by overt menthol tobacco characters. Still it has an easy firm tannin structure and for a wine that is 7 years old in a tiny bottle it is holding up well. Easily quaffable and more-ish. 13.5% alcohol. 3 stars.

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

Wine Tasting for the Car Club

Last year the MG Car Club Auckland Centre had its 50th Jubilee and Nobilo Wine Group kindly came to the party with sponsorship of the wine. Now the 'leftover' bottles are being used as prizes at various events. I was lucky enough to win some bottles at our recent combined Auckland Centre and Wellington Centre meeting over Easter so I thought, "Why not open it and taste it?" After all, the Auckland committee had been asking, '"Is the wine still okay?" Now I can give them an answer.

Nobilo PG 06Nobilo Regional Series East Coast Pinot Gris 2006
Screwcap closure. 13% alcohol.
Has some depth to the yellow colour that indicates either
     a: the wine has some age, or
     b: it is a young wine with colour enhancement from oak.
This wine does not have oak as according to the back label it was fermented in stainless steel tanks and made in an off dry style.
The scent of the wine is moderately neutral compared to say a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, a spicy Gewurztraminer or a toasty oaked Chardonnay. It's a high-toned scent that is reminiscent of tropical fruit and melon and hints of nuts. There is none of the pear that characterises Pinot Gris.
The wine is immediately rich in the palate with soft acidity, 'warmth' from the alcohol and a touch of sweetness. The texture is smooth and slightly viscous and there's an overall fruity brightness with a spicy, zesty tingle after the wine is swallowed. Tropical fruit again springs to mind and there's a savoury nutty character balancing the sweetness quite nicely on the finish. I taste peaches on the lingering aftertaste - peaches, ginger and a hint of ground coriander, perhaps. All in all, a pleasant drop. I'd happily say, "another glass, please". 4 stars.

Selaks Merlot 05Selaks Premium Selection Hawkes Bay Merlot 2005
Screwcap closure.13% alcohol.
The screwcap on this particular bottle is one of the most stubborn screwcaps we have ever attempted to crack open. In the end Neil got our combination jar/bottle opener to help twist it. It loosened the cap and he was able to crack the seal.
The colour is a dark garnet red, moderate in its depth and thinning a little on the edges.
The aroma is smoky and savoury with leathery tones sweetened up by rich ripe cherry - smell it deeply, it's quite complex with cigar and chocolate coming into play.
When you first taste this wine it is its high acid nature that hits you - think the acidity you taste from a slightly unripe blackberry that you picked from a bush on the side of a gravel road - yes there are dusty nuances too. Primary fruit plays a secondary role to the more dominant earthy, savoury, leathery characters. Oak is integrated, tannins are smooth, there's vinous sweetness to the finish and mulled wine-like spices too and then finally the cherry detected on the nose makes a welcome appearance on the lingering aftertaste. Best consumed with bread, cheese and friends over the next few months. 3 stars.

Yes, the wines are definitely still okay. Lucky winners have no reason to complain.

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

Tasting Gold

There was an interesting article in the National Business Review today (should be online soon) about what really sells wine. It's the result of a study of Auckland drinkers, both 'high involvement' and 'low involvement' imbibers as ascertained from some initial questions. They were then asked to rank 13 questions as to what would make them buy a wine. Surprisingly, for both categories, 'tasted the wine previously' came out on top, with point of sale tasting having the best influence over buying decisions. Not surprisingly, high involvement drinkers put less emphasis on awards and medals than low involvement drinkers who thought medals and awards, as well as brand name and word of mouth recommendations, were almost as important as tasting the wines.

High involvement drinkers, like me, find many opportunities to taste wine at point of sale - such as cellar door, wine shops and even at supermarkets. Many shops hold tasting evenings, like the $15 weekly wine tasting I go to at First Glass in Takapuna (the shop I write tasting notes for).  At other times they have bottles of promotion wines and new arrival samples, as well as leftovers from wine tasting evenings, on the tasting table in the centre of the shop, for people to try. Other shops do things differently- like Wine Seeker in Wellington with their daily wine promotion and Wine Tastes in Queenstown with their  enomatic dispensing machines where customers can buy a sample tastes from a diverse range of wines.

It certainly makes a difference, in my book, to taste before you buy.

This week's First Glass tasting was The Gold Medal Collection - twelve wines that had won gold medals somewhere and as usual the wines were tasted blind. Easy to see why the $12.99 Spinyback Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 won gold. Crisp, racy and focussed and distinctive of the variety.

Three Chardonnays followed and each one was better than the previous, although the third tasted Kim Crawford 'Dolly' Gisborne Chardonnay 2006 had a year of bottle age complexity age over the more delicate Brunton Road Gisborne Chardonnay 2007.

Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 was just gorgeous. Lovely florals, pure fruit and well-balanced savouriness - a real star.

A few Aussie reds but my favourite was Chapel Hill 'The Abbot' McLaren Vale Grenache 2006. Distinctly varietal with textbook descriptors, power and class - you don't often see a 100% Grenache as good as this.

Click here to read all the reviews.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 21st 2009

Saturday Night Superstars

One of the things I like most about attending wine tastings is that I get to try wines I would otherwise not necessarily try. I get to try wines I have never heard of before and I get to try wines that have received lots of hype. This is when blind tastings are the best because you don't know the label, you don't know the price and you don't know the hype.

At last week's very popular First Glass tasting, "Everyday Affordable versus Saturday Night Superstars", who would have thought the most well known New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Cloudy Bay, would be served as wine No.1.

Wine No. 1 is the glass you are presented with on arrival and if you arrive early, your tasting sample is quite likely to be finished when the rest of the tasting gets underway. Now, there is no denying that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from any vintage is a superstar, but the 2008 was not preferred as much on the night as the more affordable (and almost half the price) Eradus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008. The Eradus now has 3 gold medals and a five star rating from Winestate - it fulfilled the prediction I made back in August 2008, which was that it would feature in gold medal lists later in the year. It certainly has!

Two other wines really impressed, neither were from New Zealand, were the gorgeous Cuvee Emile Willm Gewurztraminer 2006 - a stunning, rich, luscious Alsace gewurz that finishes dry, and the opulent Kilikanoon 'The Convenant' Clare Valley Shiraz 2005 - an absolute super star that showed its class from the first sip. Both are definitely Saturday night superstars as they would be on any other night of the week too.

Click here to read all the reviews.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 20th 2009

Focus on Nelson: Part 8 - Riesling

If you love Riesling, then you will have plenty of choice of brands and styles from Nelson. Although it has recently been overtaken by Pinot Gris and regelated to 5th place in the popularity stakes, there are still over 56 hectares of Riesling vines strewn across the gravels and the clays.

Nelson Rieslings seem to be characterised by tangy citrus, particularly lime and sometimes grapefruit, with a touch of spice and a honeysuckle overlay. Most have concentration and richness. During the weekend I tasted samples from the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages and they seem like particularly ageworthy wines, indeed the oldest in the tasting, Waimea Dry Riesling 2005, has a very light lemon gold colour for its age. And as the wines get older they develop an alluring toastiness.

Nelson Riesling shows consistency across brands, more so than any other variety in the Nelson region. They are not what you could normally compartmentalise into German styles - although there has been some dabbling to replicate kabinett and spatlese - Neudorf Moutere Riesling 2007 and Anchorage Nelson Riesling 2008 being two excellent examples. Nor are they typically of the searingly dry Australian mould, although some very dry styles are made. They differ from Marlborough in that they are not overtly fruity, as many of that neighbouring region's Rieslings are. Thus they are distinct wines - serious wines that may not immediately appeal to the every day Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay drinker - but they emphatically state their varietal makeup and will definitely appeal to Riesling lovers.

All of the wines in the tasting had moderate alcohol with sugar, phenolic and acidity levels they would categorise most of the wines as just 'off dry'. Balance of acidity to residual sugar and fruit sweetness was impeccable in most cases.

Top wine of my tasting was Waimea Bolitho SV Nelson Riesling 2006. This is the premium label from Bolitho, the SV an acronym for Signature Vineyard. As would be expected for the company's flagship label, this is unfortunately a limited edition wine with only 248 6-bottle cases produced.

More about this wine in my Wine of the Week.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 19th 2009

Focus on Nelson: Part 7 - Chardonnay

Chardonnay is Nelson's 3rd most popular grape variety amongst the Nelson winegrowers with 120 hectares of land planted with the vine in 2009. Over the years, Chardonnays from Nelson have had some remarkable show success, including wines from Seifried Estate and Spencer Hill, while Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay is regarded by many as iconic.

I had seven Nelson Chardonnays in the box so with ny Focus on Nelson, it was the ideal time for a blind Nelson Chardonnay tasting. I was expecting sparks to fly but have to say I was completely underwhelmed and knowing some of the labels in the tasting, quite disappointed. Not one wine leapt out of the glass and seduced me. But in the this regional tasting's favour, the wines did have some remarkable similarities over and above being made from the Chardonnay grape. Acidity shimmers through each wine, making them really suitable for pairing with the bounty of the sea - and with Nelson known for its seafood, what more could the Nelson chardonnay producers ask for.

I thought a wine from Nelson's most iconic Chardonnay producer would be easy to pick in a blind tasting and though I found out later that it was in my initial 'Top 3', it just didn't stand out over and above any other.

The wines were re-capped or cork for re-tasting the following day, when they showed more distinctive individual traits. Just that little bit out of the bottle before being resealed and time for that little bit of oxygen to dissolve into the wine made a huge difference to the performance of the wines at the next blind tasting. So once again I say, "decant these wines for best result". The flavours really come out to play.

It took five days to finish these wines when I took them to my sisters' place for dinner - and now, at last I could have the identity of the wines revealed to me and the iconic label lived up to its reputation.  As for ratings - well I can truthfully say, none of these are 'show wines' - not at this stage of their lives, anyway.  All the notesbelow, except for one exception, are taken from Day 1 and Day 2.

NelsonCh-Apr09.jpg (36174 bytes)

Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2007 eventually revealed its class in the lineup. It was one of the three favoured wines in the initial tasting but narrowed down to shared favourite after time in the bottle. Smoky aromatics with orange peel and hints of grapefruit lead into a nutty palate with a hint of nougat and French oak pushing through the leesy backbone of the wine. A subtle wine to start and a little spritzy from the underlying acidity, it becomes quite smooth and creamy with an expansive savoury, malty finish. Screwcap closure. 14% alc. $29.00.

Rimu Grove Nelson Chardonnay 2006 was the other eventual joint favourite but such an 'out-there' style in comparison to the Neudorf. Deep yellow gold in colour and initially quite restrained on the nose becoming toasty with time. Savoury and smoky with spicy oak and a creamy texture in the palate, this is a big bold toasty style with nuts, citrus, butterscotch and a full, rich spicy finish. Of all the wines tasted, this was the only one bold enough to stand up to a juicy piece of steak on the first night of tasting. Screwcap closure. 13.5% alc. $28.00.

Kaimira Estate Brightwater Chardonnay 2006 was one of the initial top three but, perhaps because of its age, it had fallen away by day 5. Oh well, only geeks like me will drink the wine over several days. From the outset some bottle development is evident on the nose and it is moderately complex in the palate with a nougat sweetness, hints of fig, peach and caramel. The finish, which is long and lasting, is dry with underlying zest and citrussy lemonade notes as it lingers. Screwcap closure. 14% alc. $22.00.

Spinyback Nelson Chardonnay 2008 turned from ugly duckling to swan after time in the bottle and showed why this label is continuing to turn out wines that are an awesome value for money proposition. Creamy on nose and with apple and peach in palate, it is spicy, leesy and zesty with initially little influence of oak and malolactic adding creaminess. But it becomes nutty and rich, morphing into a full-bodied powerful wine with juicy tropical fruit Screwcap closure. 14.5% alc. $14.90.

Waimea Nelson Chardonnay 2008 has earthy, savoury, leesy aromas with a subtle hint of grapefruit then grapefruit fills the palate. A full-on leesy, barrel-ferment style driven by underlying acidity with a slightly bitter, savoury finish, it later becomes quite creamy and signs off as a medium-bodied, fruit driven style. Screwcap closure. 14.5% alc. $21.90.

Te Mania Nelson Reserve Chardonnay 2007 is gold in colour with a perfumed, rich, sweet-oaked scent that hints of caramel and an creamy, nutty, caramel-rich palate. A big fat, sweetish, full-bodied style, perhaps propped up by some residual sugar with a sweet lingering aftertaste where hints of citrus appear, this wine gets more and more overpoweringly buttery with time. Diam closure. 14% alc. $27.95.

Brightside Nelson Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 is a little weird from the outset perhaps because of the smoky infusion that doesn't come from oak (this is unoaked wine) so probably from Sulphur reduction. Get past that to find ripe nectarine and hints of grapefruit on the nose and a light-bodied, high-toned, sweetish, juicy palate with apple, pear and a savoury, earthy undercurrent. Screwcap closure. 14% alc. $16.00.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 17th 2009

Focus on Nelson: Part 6 - Bordeaux Styled Reds

The traditional Bordeaux grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot hardly make an impact on Nelson's grape growing land. Just look at the figures from the 2008 statistical annual.

Cabernet Franc - 3.5 hectares
Cabernet Sauvignon - 2.8 hectares
Merlot - 7.5 hectares
Malbec - 3.3 hectares
Petit Verdot - 0 hectares

The plantings account for just 2 per cent of Nelson's vineyard area so it's not surprising that the wines from these grapes are few and far between. But obviously there has to be some winemakers that persevere - after all these grapes were quite likely a component of the styles of wine that probably got many of them hooked on wine in the first place.

Dave Glover's wines from Glover Estate are probably the most famous to those of us who have been round a while - he is not known as 'Mr Tannin' for nothing. He even has 'TANNIN' on his car license plate.

A search finds that Te Mania, Waimea Estate, Himmelsfield, Moutere Hills, Brightwater Vineyards and Seifried also have a straight varietal or blend of some of these grapes.

A blast from the past is Waimea Estate Nelson Cabernet Merlot 2001 - a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. It was a good year for Cabernet in the region and Waimea also made a premium Cabernet Franc names 'The Hill'. 2001 was a good year for the Bordeaux grapes, in fact Waimea exclaim it to be spectacular.

waimea 2001Waimea Estate Nelson Cabernet Merlot 2001 is dense in colour - a deep dark rustic red with some bricking on the edges. Aromas of wild berries, black cherry and mellow creamy oak tempt the nose while in the mouth lead the texture is fine and the tannins are soft but still have some grip. The wine has that lovely vinous, stewed berry fruit sweetness that comes with bottle age, a spicy disposition to the mellow oak, hints of tobacco and leather and a creaminess to the lasting finish - where blackcurrant joins in. We are impressed.
The bottle states 13.5% alcohol by volume and the cork is one of those 'twin tops' that were popular for a while. Of course this wine is no longer available to buy. What a shame - the more I taste it the more sumptuous it becomes.  It's absolutey remarkable!

3 Brothers 07To a more recent wine we taste Te Mania Three Brothers 2007, a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc grown on the company's vineyard in MacShane Road. Such a contrast in colour to the older wine, it is youthful purple red with crimson edges and has a spicy, cedary aroma with an attractive floral/herb overtone. A 'full-blooded" red - it has a meaty, leathery backbone with a thick, ripe tannin structure, a concentrated currant and red berry richness and an earthy depth. Vanillin oak adds sweetness while a hum of acidity adds lift to the spicy finish. This wine really improves with time in the bottle - or decant for best results now. The bottles states 14% vol and the closure is a DIAM technical cork. RRP is $19.90. Check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 14th 2009

File backups / Easter in New Plymouth / What is Vintage?

When you go away on holiday you hope to come home and find everything as you left it. That was the case with us, despite the burglar alarm calling us twice - turned out to be pesky spiders, much to our relief. But one thing that wanted to stay in the state I left it was my desktop computer. I had powered it down before we departed for our four day Easter break. Now it won't power on again. It's only six years old, but it seems to have well and truly died.

Fortunately I have a tiny EEE PC, a computer with a miniature keyboard and miniature screen that fits in my handbag. It's the computer I take away on holiday. So now I have my EEE hooked up to the desktop screen. I've also attached my backup disk to my EEE. I make a full backup twice a year, when daylight savings time changes, and backup 'files that have changed since last backup' on a daily basis. I made a final backup of changes just before the we left and packed the backup disk in my holiday bag. Call me paranoid, but if I lost all my files, I would probably lose my mind.

The EEE is a basic computer, loaded with Microsoft Works, which does the job I need it for when on holiday, but I don't have the software for other tasks, including viewing and maintaining my wine database.

All is not lost, though, as I can always use Neil's PC. I just don't find his work space as ergonomically comfortable as mind.

Easter in New Plymouth
The EEE and backup disk spent Easter in New Plymouth with me at the annual meeting of the Auckland and Wellington centres of the MG Car Club. There was actually no time to update the website but I did take time out to visit the spectacularly sited Okurukuru Vineyard on the coast south of New Plymouth.  It wasn't closed like it was last time I visited.

Mt Taranaki (although clouded over on this visit) overlooks the driveway that meanders through the grapevines to the restaurant that has an expansive view of the Tasman Sea (see below) and the prominent Paritutu Rock and Sugar Loaf Islands to the north. It's such an exposed site, you wonder how the vines can withstand the harsh conditions. Not very well, we found out when we went inside, as there was no wine from the vineyard we had just driven through to be tasted.

A Rosé from Pinotage grapes (now sold out) was the only wine produced from the 2006 vintage, there were no grapes harvested in 2007 and the red wine made from the Pinotage grapes in 2008 was "about ready to be bottled."

okurukuru2.jpg (45280 bytes)It seems that Pinotage (see right) is more ideal to these conditions than the struggling Pinot Noir vines we drove past. We sneaked a taste of the not yet harvested Pinotage grapes on our way out and though the bunches and berries were small, the grapes were juicy and flavoursome and the vivid colour from the skins stained my fingers was an intense purple red.  I will endeavour to source a bottle of the 2009 Pinotage, when it is released.

At the restaurant you can taste the wines, all sourced from other regions, if they are not too busy with dining patrons. We arrived before the lunchtime rush and were delighted to find that yes, there was time for someone to take us through a tasting. There are two labels, Okurukuru and Sugarloaf, and Katie Hayward, the daughter of the owners, is the winemaker. For $5, we could taste any four of the wines available by the glass on the restaurant list. We made our choice and the whites came straight out of the fridge. They were ...

Okurukuru Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Pungently aromatic with nuances of tropical fruit and fresh vibrant flavours with zesty acidity pulsating behind tropical fruit and a hint of green bean too. 12.8% alcohol. $21 cellar door price / $37 restaurant price.

Okurukuru Marlborough Pinot Gris 2007
Slightly sweetish with a spicy undercurrent and a hint of floral musk. A fairly neutral wine, flavourwise, and probably would be aromatic if not so cold. 13% alcohol. $27/$43.

Sugarloaf Marlborough Riesling 2007
Showing a light lemon hue, this emits scents of lime on the nose and has a medium dry palate with lime, honeysuckle and a touch of spice. A refreshing wine with a slightly oily texture and good acid spine, it is well balanced with a long finish and the standout of the tasting. 13% alcohol. $19/ $33.

We finished with Okurukuru Hawkes Bay Merlot Malbec 2006. Deep red garnet, translucent in appearance, this has quite an earthy aroma with the florals of Malbec pushing through and lots of earthy / leathery flavours with cedary notes and herbs on the finish. From a new bottle, just opened, the tannins are initially quite robust yet the moderate palate weight is perfect for a restaurant wine. 13% alcohol. $19/ $33.

okurukuru1.jpg (27484 bytes)Okurukuru also has a number of experimental plantings on the rolling slopes below the restaurant (shown in the photo). Time will tell if they come to fruitful production.

We stopped for coffee but didn't stay for lunch because while we were tasting two big groups, totalling about 40 people, arrived and there was now a 45-minute wait for food. We went back to the MG paddock just down the road and ate the sandwiches I had made earlier.

What is vintage?
While we were in New Plymouth we went to the ‘Stumble Inn Cafe', near where we were staying, one night for dinner. It sounded good on paper but seemed to be mainly a bar with a restaurant area attached. The wine list was simple with very few choices by the glass and none of the wines had vintages. 
"What vintage is it?" I asked the waitress of a particular wine.
"What do you mean by vintage?" she replied with a quizzical and frustrated look.
"The year on the bottle".
"Oh," she said.

I've been told before that they don't put 'years' on wine lists so they can turn the wines over when the new vintage comes along. But some wines can been great one year and just so-so ordinary the next. There are the geeky amongst us who care. I am one of them but it seems I am in a minority category.

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

Focus on Nelson: Part 5 - Where to go

Have a few days to spare in the South Island? Want to visit vineyards? Then why not consider Nelson. I go there when I can, which is not often. Last time it was actually during a car club tour to Wanaka. I had volunteered to plan the route for our 20-odd cars so I cleverly arranged two nights in Nelson as the first stopover after driving off the interisland ferry from the North Island and before continuing south via the beautiful West Coast. This gave a full day in Nelson to discover some of the delights the region has to offer, including an early morning group visit to the World of Wearable Art museum and its gallery of classic cars.

Ideally, however, if you are a wine lover you would want two days minimum to visit the wineries but more if you want to head over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay. That was the aim of my trip last time, to visit Golden Bay and the beautiful gardens and Pinot Noir vineyard at Waiwera Estate.

We made the Arthur Wakefield Motor Inn at Richmond, south of Nelson City, our base. We had amiable hosts, a bar and restaurant on site, other restaurants close by and plenty of parking.

Day 1 - Tour the Waimea Plains
Onth gravelly soils of the Waimea Plains there are 9 wineries open for tastings in the high season (ie. mid summer) - they are Fossil Ridge Wines, Penley Grove Vineyard, Brightwater Vineyards, Greenhough Vineyards, Kaimira Ventures, Stafford Lane Estate, Seifried Estate, Te Mania and Waimea Estate. Heading into winter, fewer will be open and this Easter will be the end of the tasting season for some.

Day 2 - Head into the Moutere Hills
Wineries on the 'clays' include the world famous Neudorf as well as Rimu Grove, Ruby Bay, Himmelsfield, Glovers, Woollaston Estates, Kahurangi and Moutere Hills. Others are open by appointment.

Day 3 - Over the hill to Golden Bay
On the way you can visit the most westerly vineyards of the great Nelson valley. Near Motueka you will find Anchorage Wines and Redoubt Hill. But probably best to combine visits here with Day 2 because there are 290 bends on the winding road over the hill to Golden Bay. Whether you visit a winery or not in the Bay, it is worth the journey just for the experience. And the rocks are amazing too.

Wineart is the regional marketing arm for the Nelson Wineries. They have up to date maps and opening hours - check it out on

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

Focus on Nelson: Part 4 - More Pinot Noirs

A tasting of several Nelson Pinot Noirs from vineyards sited on both the Moutere clays and the Waimea gravels showed finesse amongst the top wines. They are not blockbuster wines like you will find in Central Otago, nor do they show the upfront cherry sweetness that many Marlborough wines do. Instead they are characterised by a gentle attack, silky tannins, restrained oak and bittersweet red fruits in the tamarillo, cherry guava, New Zealand cranberry (ie Chilean guava) and bitter cherry spectrum. Thus, the wines tend to be savoury rather than fruity with the best showing earthy, slight mushroom tones. From a gentle attack they build in the palate to a long lasting finish.

However the wines that did not perform so well showed overuse of oak, a chunky texture and unbalanced, confectionary-like sweetness. These were invariably 'second labels' rather than the top labels and perhaps designed to fill a gap in the market place - or could that be in the winemaker's portfolio? But poor wines at a low price point can devalue a winery's image and the quality that their top wines deliver.

The top four wines in the tasting came from Te Mania, Neudorf, Woollaston and Rimu Grove. We matched them to a rack of lamb encrusted with salt, pepper, hints of ground fennel seeds, fresh sage and Thai basil - an unlikely combination but it worked amazingly well - the rack was pan fried then finished in the oven. The meat was slightly pink when served. Mushrooms were among the accompaniments.

Four Nelson Pinot Noirs

Te Mania Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 was my favourite wine. I loved the intense meaty aroma and the flavours of bittersweet fruit with an earthy savouriness and a hint of mushroom. There was a gamey character to this silky wine that went so well with the food with the finish on the wine leaving the overall lasting impression. $29.95. Diam closure. 14.5% alcohol.

Neudorf Tom's Block Pinot Noir 2007 was Neil's favourite wine. A sweeter maraschino and chocolate cream aroma leads into a ripe, juicy palate with plenty of varietal deliciousness and an amazing depth of savouriness and bittersweet fruit. A powerful, number in the line-up with slightly grippy tannins. $29. Screwcap closure. 14% alcohol.

Woollaston Nelson Pinot Noir 2006, with that extra year of age, had the most gorgeous texture of them all. A lighter colour and lacking upfront punch - but upfront punch is not necessary in a wine that slowly and sensually seduces the palate as this wine does. Smoky and savoury with tamarillo connotations, anise-like spices and a long full finish, it was my No. 2 wine of the tasting. $35. Screwcap closure. 13.5% alcohol.

In contrast to the Woollaston, Rimu Grove Nelson Pinot Noir 2006 was a bit of a blockbuster. Characterised by a floral aroma and strawberry and bitter red fruit flavours, the ripe fruit is underpinned by a savoury, spicy, earthy undercurrent and slightly grippy tannins. A wine with good pinot sense and a long lasting finish. $45.  Screwcap closure. 14.1% alcohol.

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

Focus on Nelson: Part 3 - Aromatics with Spicy Thai

I opened three Nelson aromatics to take to a Thai restaurant last Friday with a quick taste at home to check they were 'okay' before I put them in the wine bag to take out to dinner. All of the wines had moderate residual sugar according to the notes and on that alone, all should work with the food but it really wasn't the case.

Three Nelson Aromatics

Te Mania Nelson Riesling 2007 ($18) is a full-bodied, powerful wine and assertive from the outset. It has concentrated lime and hints of bitter marmalade on the nose with a spicy zesty palate full of Roses lime, a with firm acid grip and fruit sweetness on the lingering finish. Although the label says 'off dry' it's a little reminiscent of dry Australian Riesling complete with hint of 'kero'. It seems like a wine that can only flourish in the bottle but didn't suit the food we ordered. Lucky we had made the most of the opportunity to sip on this while we waited for the food to arrive.

Brightside Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 ($18) made By Kaimira Estate, was a much better match with spicy Thai. I loved this wine when I tasted it at Nelson WineArt last October so it was good to have the opportunity to taste again in a more relaxed atmosphere and then accompany it with food. Perfumed and floral, it's a little nutty with a hint of flower musk on the nose. In the palate a momentary sweetness is taken over by the crisp phenolic backbone that really drives the wine. Spicy with a tickle of ginger and a lovely tang of orange zest enlivening the pear and subtle stonefruit flavours, it finishes with a slight sage-like herbaceous edge. Label says 'off dry' and while it has fruit sweetness, the well-balanced acidity and phenolic undercurrent ensures it is never cloying.

But the wine that really was the pick of the bunch was the Anchorage Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008 ($19). A medium-bodied wine, sweetly perfumed with rose petal and Turkish delight, it's quite sweet to the taste too. Light and gentle in its attack but with a powerful lasting impression. Flavours of ginger, honey and orange zest infiltrate the sweet musky flavours then cumin and coriander spices add an exotic flare to the long lasting finish. Best chilled if tasting on its own, but just superb with the food. It is this week's Wine of the Week.

I probably tasted this at the same WineArt tasting, but that day it was the Anchorage Nelson Riesling 2008 that really pushed my buttons. A low 8% alcohol with 18 grams of sugar, and moderately high acidity, this lemony, tangy, thirst quenching wine went on to win gold at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards the following month. Although a new Nelson label, Anchorage Wines is definitely one to watch.

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

Ten years of First Glass tastings

Last Wednesday night, on the 1st of April (no joke intended), First Glass Wines and Spirits celebrated 10 years of business and ten years of weekly Wednesday tastings in Takapuna on Auckland's North Shore.  Before First Glass came along we belonged to the Cellarmasters Wine Club, initially run by Wilson Neill and then by Liquorland.  We used to chase the tastings around the Auckland stores - first Milford, then Newton Road, Newmarket, Beach Road, Takapuna and Northcross. The tastings allowed us to try many wines we would otherwise never have the opportunity to try, especially classed growth Bordeaux - before the prices became prohibitive. Gradually the Liquorland stores closed or were scaled back with the ultra fine wine selections a distant memory.  As North Shore-ites, it was a relief to find a regular tasting venue on the North Shore at First Glass in Takapuna, especially as the Liquorland Milford and Takapuna stores had long gone by the time First Glass opened.

marg&king.jpg (56298 bytes)First Glass was started by former Wilson Neill and Liquorland employee, Kingsley Wood, who was also the catalyst for the Cellar Masters Wine Club. He was joined in his new retail venture by his business partner Margaret Caldwell.  Margaret moved to Dunedin with her family just over four years ago but was back in town for the celebration.

The 10th birthday tasting had wines fit for a party. We started with Piper Heidsieck Champagne, followed by two delicious New Zealand Chardonnays - the Kim Crawford Tietjen Chardonnay 2007 and the Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2006, then the Villa Maria Reserve Gewurztraminer 2007 and Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinet 2006 from Germany.  Several Australian reds followed and we finished with a sweet wine. I've written tasting notes, as I've done since First Glass opened.   Initially I wrote them just for this website, then for about the last six or so years for the First Glass website as well (one way to offset the cost of attending the tastings). Check out the latest notes on my Wednesday Roundup page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Apr 3rd 2009

Focus on Nelson: Part 2 - Waimea's Pinots

We often get the opportunity to compare Pinot Noirs from different producers, but it's not often we get to compare different Pinot Noir styles from the same producer. With four Pinot Noirs in the tasting box from Nelson's Waimea Estate, the opportunity just had to be taken for a Waimea Pinot Noir comparison. All the wines are made with grapes grown on the Waimea Plains, with three stating that the grapes come from their premium Packhouse Vineyard. There is an overview of the Waimea Vineyard on their website here.

We matched the wines to Lamb Back strap encrusted with rosemary salt, Thai basil Potato dauphinois, Thai basil mushroom saute (yes, I like Thai basil) and steamed sliced carrots sauteed in butter.

The wines are reviewed, as pictured, from left to right. All the bottles have screwcaps.

Four Waimea Pinot Noirs

Waimea Bolitho Single Vineyard Nelson Pinot Noir 2007
The deepest, darkest of the four, this is a richly scented wine with maraschino cherry over smoky sweet oak on the nose - it's quite brooding at first yet opens up well with time in the glass. Quite sweet on entry to the palate - plummy and spicy with Pinot Noir's bittersweet fruit coming forth, saying, "I am Pinot Noir," as if to restate the obvious. A big wine, quite grippy and meaty with savoury herbal nuances, chocolate, leather and charry oak with ripe cherry and plum fruit on the longer savoury finish. This had small batch fermentation with wild yeast followed by 12 months maturation in specially selected French oak barrels. It has 14.5% alc and costs $29.90 a bottle. 4 stars on its own. 5 stars with the food as this signature wine was simply outstanding with this meal.

Waimea Barrel Selection Nelson Pinot Noir 2007
A deep dense tamarillo red, this offers dark oak and chocolate-infused aromas and rich generous flavours. The texture is velvety, almost creamy, with a pleasing textural grip - the fruit is bittersweet and the wine has a savoury richness with classic, earthy, mushroom undertones. A touch of strawberry emerges on the finish. Also from the Packhouse Vineyard with a year in French oak, it was inoculated with Burgundian yeast strains for the fermentation. 14.5% alcohol. $21.50 a bottle. 3.5 stars.  It was just a little sweet with the meat - or perhaps the meat was 'too gamey' for the wine. However it was excellent with the mushrooms.

Waimea Estate Nelson Pinot Noir 2006
A light transparent garnet coloured wine. Quite juicy, ripe and creamy smelling with lots of vanilla as if it has a large proportion of American oak, this sweet vanilla component carries through to the soft, velvety textured, medium-bodied palate that’s crammed with ripe cherry fruit and pricked with peppery spice. Utterly drinkable and sure to appeal to those who don't care what they are drinking, but as a Pinot Noir, for me, it is just wrong. The type of oak used is not specified for this wine made from Packhouse Vineyard fruit. It has 14% alcohol and costs $23.90. 2.5 stars.

Spinyback Nelson Pinot Noir 2006
A light transparent garnet colour - a little lighter than the Estate 2006. Spicy, savoury aromas with intrinsic Pinot Noir cherry sweetness and sweet in the palate too with a well balanced underlying tartness. It has nice earthy tones and although it initially seems a little spritzy, that is momentary and the finish is long and savoury. Classic Pinot Noir in a lighter, medium bodied style. It has 13.5% alcohol and costs $17.90. 3 stars. Didn't go with the gamey lamb but good with the vegetables.

Spinyback is a label that Waimea Estate uses for value priced wines and they are often outstanding value for money. They are good beverage wines and food friendly too, which makes them a winner in the Waimea Cafe.

It says on the back label of the Spinyback that Waimea Estate donates 5c per bottle of Spinyback purchases to education about New Zealand's native reptile, the Tuatara. Check out the story on

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

Focus on Nelson: Part 1 - Syrah

Nelson locationI'm starting this month with a focus on Nelson. I love visiting this sunny region at the top of the South Island. I love the climate and the geology - in fact the first time I went to Nelson was to hike to the Champion Mine, up the Aniseed Valley, south of Dun Mountain in the Richmond Ranges, to collect copper-derived minerals. It was more than a success where we found gorgeous, octagonal rich red-coloured cuprite crystals (Cu2O).

It was mining on these ranges east of the city that drove the early Nelson economy. Now Nelson is better known for its agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, art and tourism as well as for its bounty from the sea. But on the mountains that were once ravaged for their mineral wealth, today it is exotic forests that seeds the economic wealth.The dense mafic rock of the mineral belt is not suitable for grapevines and when the first of the current wave of winegrowing became established from 1974 onwards, it was on the rather more viticultural friendly soils of the Waimea Plains below and the Moutere Hills further west.

Last year, in the NZ Winegrowers Statistical Annual, there were 32 wineries and 57 grapegrowers listed in the Nelson Region with approximately 880 hectares of land under vine. Sauvignon Blanc (310 ha) is the most popular grape variety, followed by Pinot Noir (180 ha), Chardonnay (121 ha), Pinot Gris (64 ha), Riesling (56 ha) and Gewurztraminer (27.5 ha). All the rest have less than 10 hectares with Syrah leading that pack with 8 hectares of vines.

Syrah pops up from time to time. From somewhere in my memory bank, I remember Syrah being planted in the west of the Moutere subregion, the first production being from 0.3 hectares in 2001. But for three successive years the growers supplied three different producers. There was no consistency. Hopefully now there will be because with two Nelson Syrahs recently tasted, both with fruit sourced from the Waimea Plains, the future looks rosy for this variety.

waimea syrahWaimea Estate Nelson Syrah 2007 is as red as a glossy cuprite crystal.   Succulent smelling and so reflective of its variety with pepper, vanillin oak and red fruits on the nose - juicy bright fruits that carry through to a smooth, creamy textured palate. It's a gentle wine with a floral lift to the finish. If you love American oak - Syrah and American oak go so well together - you'll find it hard to believe this is a South Island Syrah - you could be plumping for somewhere miles further west. A soft, succulent, juicy creamy red that is made to drink and enjoy with thinking too much about it, it has 13% alcohol, a screwcap closure and costs just $21.90. 4.5 stars. See

kaimira Sy/VKaimira Brightwater Syrah Viogner 2007 is a dark coloured red. A more brooding wine - savoury, earthy and leathery with perhaps a hint of the fragrant little yeast called 'Brett', the palate is dark and savoury with a full-bodied richness. Pepper abounds then cherry fruitcake-like flavours set in to sweeten up the drop. A touch herbaceous on the finish with just a hint of mint, it has 13% alcohol, a screwcap closure and costs $40 a bottle. A first release for Kaimira, it was made in tiny quantities from low yielding vines. There is 5% Viognier in the blend. Without food I give it a 3.5 star rating.
Find out more from

The wines were matched to a lamb fillet encrusted with red peppercorns and a cardamon, ginger and fennel-infused salt. While I loved to drink the Waimea just on its own, the outstanding food match was the Kaimira - the food totally maketh this wine.

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