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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: June 2009
Jun 30th: The most unlikely Pinot Noir wine and food match
Jun 29th: More on Chinese Winemakers in NZ
Jun 27th: Like your Gizzie Chardonnay?
Jun 25th: Who was really NZ's first Chinese winemaker?
Jun 23rd: Up on Centenary Hill
Jun 22nd: Mid winter Summer Sipping
Jun 21st: The First Glass Wine Options 2009
Jun 20th: A vertical of Passage Rock Syrah
Jun 15th: Waiheke Winegrowers come to town
Jun 12th: Riesling Confusion and Wednesday Tasting highlights
Jun 10th: Bottle Shock feedback
Jun 9th: Exciting Northland Pinotage
Jun 8th: Movie Review: Bottle Shock
Jun 7th: Premium drops from Margaret River
Jun 2nd: Outstanding Lineup of New Zealand Pinot Noir
Older Entries

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

The most unlikely Pinot Noir wine and food match

You never know what works as a wine and food match until you try it. Like lychee and Pinot Noir - a fresh lychee and the Astrolabe Marlborough Pinot Noir to be exact.

There's something about the sweetness and the exotic tanginess of the fruit and the smoky savouriness of the wine that just gels.

An accidental match - after dinner - Pinot Noir still in the glass - fresh lychees on the table.

Try it and see.  You just never know.

For more on the sensational Astrolabe Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 - click here to check out this week's Wine of the Week.

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

More on Chinese Winemakers in NZ

Received an email from Raymond Chan, a New Zealand-born Chinese and wine judge, wine retailer and wine palate extraordinaire. Raymond has been juding wines in New Zealand since 1989.

"We have a family story when we first started getting interested in wine in the late 1970s. Then, Totara SYC was of course highly respected for its white wines – Riesling Sylvaner and Chenin Blanc especially sought after, being medal winners. My Dad said that one of the Thames family came to our family living in Dunedin, asking if he could board with us while studying at university, our family names being the same, and that our families came from the same area of China. Dad, and our family not having the room turned him away.  So our vinous journey could have possibly had an earlier start!"

Raymond also said, "Don’t forget Albert Chan".   Albert Chan was the younger son of Stanley Young Chan and sometime after his primary and high school education in Thames he went to Australia to study at Roseworthy. He became Chief Winemaker at Lindemans in 1983 and went on to become one of Australia's most respected white wine winemakers.  Albert met an early and tragic death, but his memory lives on with the Albert Chan Memorial Trophy for Best White Wine of the Show, presented at the Sydney Royal Show each year.

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

Like your Gizzie Chardonnay?

Well, you just might have to rely on the small producers for your premium Gisborne Chardonnay tipple from the 2010 vintage onwards.  Check out these news items.

Montana suspends vine pruning
TVNZ News 17 Jun 2009
"New Zealand grape growers have been asked to stop pruning while big winery Montana - owned by Pernod Ricard New Zealand - re-assesses its needs for the future." This article mentions Gisborne in particular and not only Montana, but also Constellation New Zealand leaving Gisborne grapes on the vine this harvest.
Read more ...

Bottom falls from local grape industry, growers sacked
Gisborne Herald 19 Jun 2009
"It is a black day for Gisborne's economy with the shock announcement that Pernod Ricard no longer wants a substantial amount of the grapes it takes from this district."
Read more ...

Growers in shock
Gisborne Herald 20 Jun 2009
"Grapegrowers around the district are reeling as a result of Pernod Ricard's decision to dramatically cut the amount of wine, particularly Chardonnay and Lindauer, they source from Gisborne.
Read more ...

Gisborne wine industry 'still a major player' in NZ scene
Gisborne Herald 22 Jun 2009
"A black cloud might be hanging over Gisborne's wine industry but the sun will rise again, says Gisborne Winegrowers Society president John Clarke."
Read more ....

It was on television too - both TV1 and TV3.

But that's not all. According to the Marlborough Express, it seems Pernod Ricard may be restructuring in Marlborough too.  This article talks about staffing levels at the Brancott Winery restaurant.  The Montana Gisborne winery used to have a restaurant too.  But not any longer.

I quite like Gisborne Chardonnay - the good ones especially.  2007 was a brilliant year in these eastern vineyards.  Early indications look that 2008 might be pretty good too. 2009 would have had to have been spectular, given the brilliant weather conditions this season.

Tonight we opened on of Pernod Ricard's brands.

Saints Gisborne Chardonnay 2008 is a moderate yellow gold colour - actually it is quite yellow for such a young wine.   A fresh fruity number with a fragrance of tropical fruit and nutty oak that carries through to the juicy palate where there's lots of pineapple and citrus zest too. Well-proportioned oak sits gently in the background and savoury, mealy nuances add complexity.  An easy going, medium-bodied style with plenty of drink now appeal. Top price is around $19.95, but this is a supermarket discount favourite.

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

Who was really NZ's first Chinese winemaker?

Followed a newslink today that took me to an article about New Zealand's first Chinese winemaker.   According to the article at the Indian Wine Portal, his name is Johnny Leung - and he is alive and kicking and working at Twilight Vineyard* in Clevedon. 

"New Zealand's first Chinese winemaker - that ain't right," I thought.  "There have been Chinese winemakers in New Zealand before him".

One who had a lot of media attention is CP Lin - not so much because he is Chinese, but because he is blind. For a long time CP was winemaker at Mountford in Waipara but he is now making wine in the Hunter Valley in Australia.

There is also Johnny's name sake, Edward Leung, whose wines bear the label, Ma Maison.

But the one that immediately sprang to mind is Stanley Young Chan. His initials were part of the name of his winery, Totara Vineyards SYC, at Totara, between Kopu and Thames (click for map) in the Waikato. We called into the winery many times on summer holiday trips to the Coromandel Peninsula, not only for wine but for his famous Totara Kiwifruit Liquer. The winery buildings, winery shop and vineyard are still there. Cuisine magazine lists Gilbert Chan as the current winemaker.

But a quick search tells me that Stanley wasn't the first either.  That honour goes to Joe Ah Chan (Chan Hock Joe), who, according to the Dictionary of New Zealand Bibliography, was not only the first Chinese winemaker in New Zealand to make wine, but quite probably the first in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Joe (1882 - 1959) arrived in New Zealand around 1905, working in Wellington selling fruit and vegetables. He returned to China for a short time in 1916 but came back to in New Zealand in 1917 to settle in Matamata. In 1925 Chan began to grow grapes at Totara near Thames, the first Chinese New Zealander to do so, and in 1929 he produced his first batch of wine. He was reputed to be the first Chinese wine-maker in the Southern Hemisphere.  In 1950 the vineyard was sold to a distant cousin, Stanley Young Chan, who changed the name to Totara Vineyards SYC. 

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand records the first man from China arriving in Nelson in 1842. By the late 1860's Chinese were working the Otago goldfields. There have waves of Chinese immigration ever since. Many new Chinese immigrants arrived from 1987 onwards but there are also Chinese New Zealanders who parents and possibly grandparents were born here. So if you know any other Chinese winemakers in New Zealand, please email me.

*Actually the Twilight Vineyards website doesn't make the claim that Johnny is the first Chinese winemaker in NZ.  Perhaps an over-exuberant reporter simply got the facts wrong.

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

Up on Centenary Hill

Up on Centenary Hill
there's a lone fig tree
that overlooks a vineyard
where old Shiraz vines grow.

A great deal of Australian Shiraz passes my lips and many of them are very good, some are even excellent, but occasionally there's one that's so sublime its sends shivers of ecstasy down my spine.

Jacob's Creek Centenary Hill Barossa Valley Shiraz 2004 is one of those wines.  This current release (in NZ - the 2005 is released in Australia) is inky purple black in colour and has a texture that is so fine it seems silky and seamless. Smoky, savoury, spicy, concentrated and intense - and very tight - it has loads of pepper with a big chocolate mid palate and classy, well integrated oak.  The next day is when those shivers of ecstasy happened - just wow, wow, wow! Minty and chocolatey with juicy mulberry fruit, gorgeous mocha-like oak and that sensational texture. Found some dregs when going through a box of partly consumed wines last night. It was eight days after it was first opened and, OMG, it was still absolutely sensational. 

According to the back label, "this wine represents the pinnacle of Australian winemaking".  It's certainly one to consider if you are planning a tasting of icon Australian Shiraz wines.  At an RRP of around NZ$46, it is one of the more affordable icons too.   Matured in new American oak for 24 months, then another two years in bottle before release, it states 14.5% alcohol on the label and has a natural cork closure.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 22nd 2009

Mid Winter Summer Sipping

When some hardy souls were taking a mid winter dip for the Winter Solstice, my memory of summer was in a bottle - bottled summer- Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of course - click here to check out my review of River Farm Saint Maur Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - it is one of those delicious 'alternative' styles. 

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

The First Glass Wine Options 2009

Wine Options has come and gone for another year. It's the wine game where you talk yourself out of the obvious answer and go for something obscure. At least that's what our team did on one or two of the wines, much to our detriment. Needless to say we were not in the prize money, but we did get very close, just six points off the winning score and one point off third place. Would have been nice to bring home some bacon.

Anyway, another excellent event was held at Crowne Plaza in Auckland with 48 teams competing. There was even a couple that flew over from Brisbane, making it a truly international event. They made it worth their while as they were the overall winners. Steve and Julie Macfarlane, Niv Findlay and Malcolm Meads were the team named "Barrique Obama - Leader of the Wine House". The foursome is no stranger to Wine Options titles - having won sometime in the distant past and always placing near the top of the bunch whenever they compete. They scored 160 points.

Second place was "Magnum Men" with Gabor and crew, the winners in 2008 and 2007, but in 2009 relinquishing their title. They were two points behind the winners.

Third place went to "The Back Row", a team of four guys who always stand at the back at First Glass Wednesday Tastings. They scored 155 points.

Our team, "Pensionfundfolds - Bin Rich 2008, Bin Broke 2009" was one point away in 4th position - but five points ahead of the fifth placed team. The fifth-placers called themselves "The Fine Line Slithery Company" and did walk away with prizes - they were voted the team with the best name.

The wines were all terrific, as to be expected.

Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 is developing beautifully. A moderate yellow gold in colour, it has a toasty, mealy nutty aroma and a rich texture. Powerful and creamy with underlying citrus as we are now expecting in top Hawkes Bay chardonnays, the fruit is ripe, there is a mealy richness and there is lots of acidity and spice with some nougat-like notes lingering on the finish. We scored 18 points out of 22.

Albert Mann Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2007 is light gold in colour and quite restrained on the nose - and very sweet smelling too. Quite honeyed in the palate with a tight oily backbone, the classic descriptors of rose petal, lychee and ginger come to mind. It's very strong on the finish and with a youthful freshness. We scored a possible 22 points on this wine. Yay!

Mt Difficulty Long Gully Central Otago Riesling 2008 - The acidity just screeches in this wine - apple, lime and honey suckle - high acid - low phenolics - a really ying - yang tug of sweet and acid dryness. Our team scored a 'possible' on this wine too!

Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2005 - this was second of two wines I had to answer an individual question on (each team member answers two individual questions, the first question of five on each of 8 wines) and I was really confused. A very very sweet wine - I couldn't immediately pinpoint the region or variety. Sweet, soft, very honeyed, some volatile acidity wafting off the aroma, hints of lanolin and oak on the finish adding to the overall complexity together with apricot and lots of toffee. I plumped for Northern Hemisphere. Phew that was right. We just mucked up the vintage again but the team answered four questions correctly out of five.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2005 - ripe with a winey vanillin sweetness on the nose. Momentarily a little metallic in the palate - lot and lots of cassis - bright red fruit and what seemed like classy French oak (yet St Henri is meant to be matured in big oak casks) - some mellow notes too. Well, this wine was a total disaster for us. We scored a miserable 3 points out of a possible 22. No team in the room scored a 'possible' either.

Olssens Jackson Barry Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 - A lovely rich, savoury style- perfumed - big oak - quite sweet in palate - loads of cherries - seamlessly smooth and gentle - hints of anise with tarragon and thyme - very floral- too floral for anywhere other than Central Otago, I'm sure. It was one of the wines we had practised on. A 'possible' 22 points.

Craggy Range Sophia 2007 (Hawkes Bay) - brilliant youthful crimson black. Classic leather and earth of Merlot with a very noticeable leafy character - a hint of mint and cedar - quite sumptuous fruit - cherry fruit - but quite hard tannins - a robust wine and a keeper. A very good wine. We missed one question on this wine, but nailed the label which is often our downfall.

Cullen Diana Madeleine Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2005 - this is a rich, power, cassis, mint and cedar-laden wine. Deep in colour with mouth-coating tannins and lots of succulent vanillin oak. A profound wine, simply incredible - but we stupidly went for the South Australian option - we thought it good enough to be Penfolds Bin 707 - but that was just put in the options to fool us.

There were a number of bonus wines that helped our score - but in the end just not quite enough. All in all, it was  another great afternoon with simply outstanding wines. Check out the First Glass website from midday Monday, for pics and all the teams scores. Special mention to the Mudbrick Wines team from Waiheke Island who dressed like showgirls from Rio(ja) de Janeiro. They were last seen hightailing down Queen Street, together "Alice in Liquorland" and the "Man O' Warlords", for the 6pm ferry.

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

A vertical of Passage Rock Syrah

One of the highlights of the Waiheke Winegrowers tasting last week was a vertical of Syrah from the island's most successful Syrah producer, Passage Rock. These are my very brief notes.

Ppassrock.jpg (27854 bytes)assage Rock Syrah 2004
Good colour, still quite a dense red just starting to develop a little bricking. A powerful wine - savoury and peppery - lots of pepper, firm tannins - and still plenty of underlying acidity to carry it along its development path, long term. Lovely cherry fruit, hints of dried herbs and a long, rich succulent finish that just lasts and lasts. Outstanding.

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2005
A deeper red than the 2004 with a translucency to the hue. Pepper and spice box aromas with some bittersweet red fruit then, in the palate, crisp brambly fruit over dried rose petals with a tarry, savoury backbone. Quite brooding compared to the seductive 2004.

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2006
Deep and dense in colour, this is a big, beast of a wine - very meaty with bright red fruits and a cracked black pepper profile. Huge tannin structure with the sweetness of the American oak pushing through - it is high-toned and lifted - with cracked red berry fruit and a long long finish where some dark chocolate notes emerge too.
From memory this seemed a lesser wine to the 2005 on release (or perhaps that was the non-reserve), but it is defnitely a block buster now. So totally delicious too.

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2007
Deep purple red. Big, rich, creamy and succulent yet dark, brooding and savoury at the same time. Some 'old fruitcake' nuances as well as the longed for florals. Good peppery Syrah- just needs time.

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2008 - barrel sample
Crimson red. Perfumed with lots of briary rose scents and flavours. Still youthful and very tight in the fine textured tannic palate. It has Passage Rock tar, rose petal and chocolate signature. Needs time. 

This is what Syrah is all about - rich, heady, spicy and delicious. It is wine that evokes memories.  You can taste it, shut your eyes and be transported to that place. In that respect, check out my Wine of the Week review (written 3 years ago) of the Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2005.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 15th 2009

Waiheke Winegrowers come to town

Why go to Waiheke when Waiheke will come to you? Well, I could give you a hundred or more reasons for going to Waiheke Island but why turn down an invitation to taste the wines from seventeen of the island's wineries in downtown Auckland? It's a saving of a $64 return ferry fare at the very least (unless you are a 'gold card' holder who travels for free) as well as an hour and a half over and above the tasting time for travelling to the island and waiting for ferries to arrive.

Waiheke Winegrowers put on an excellent event with many of the 'trade' popping in throughout the afternoon but congratulations must go to the organisers in having a quiet 'media-only' session. That meant no winemakers there to greet you excitedly with a bottle ready to pour you a sample as they stated, "Michael Cooper (or substitute some other famous name) gave this 5 stars". You could taste quietly and make assessments for yourself.

waiheke1.jpg (32517 bytes)The Waiheke standard had been set very high by the Stonyridge Larose vertical tasting that was organised by participants of the Auswine forum three weeks before so I decided to concentrate on red wines. Stonyridge Larose 2005 was my top wine of the vertical tasting and it soon clear that 2005 was a super red wine vintage on the island.

Wines from 2005 that were showing particularly well were

  • Mudbrick Vineyard Reserve Merlot Cabernets 2005 - A powerful wine - deep and concentrated, savoury, and silky textured with classic Merlot and Cabernet complexities and biscuity spices - simply beautiful and one of the stars of the entire tasting. At $36-$40 - the most 'value for money' too.
  • Obsidian "The Obsidian" 2005 - a blend of 48% CS, 47% Merlot, 3% CF and 1% Malbec, this is a powerful wine with ripe, succulent juicy fruit, hints of tobacco and a structured backbone.
  • Kennedy Point Merlot 2005 (85% Merlot, 10% CF, 5% CS) - dense colour, bright, youthful flavours - sweet upfront ripe cherry and plum fruit - firm but succulent tannins - chocolatey oak - bright, clean and refreshing in the context. A bit of an eye-opener for me as I only know KP as a Syrah producer.
  • Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2005 - tasted as part of a vertical of PR Syrah (2004 to a 2008 barrel sample) - this showed a classic pepper and spice box aroma with crisp brambly fruit and dried rose petal over a savoury, tarry backbone - quite brooding in the lineup - a long term proposition.

However there were some standout wines from 2006, 2007 and 2008 as well. Although few 2008's were on show, those that were at the party were strikingly saturated and vivid in colour

  • Stonyridge Airfield 2008 - a blend of CS, Merlot and CF in unknown quantities, exhibited an attractive sweet cassis nose and intense, concentrated flavours with a youthful tannin structure, hint of chocolate, brooding fruit, some leafy notes and a savoury, earthy finish. A stellar expression from the 'little brother of Larose'.
  • Mudbrick Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2008 - a very powerful presence - shows the intense fruit that the vintage produced- fruit that just 'socks' through the tannins - brimming with its youth but showing amazing potential. Gosh, what will the 'Reserve' from this vintage be like?waiheke2.jpg (34463 bytes)
  • Isola Estate Cabernet Merlot 2008 - put the sunshades on because the crimson colour of this wine is dazzling. Big oak, wild berry fruit, thick tannins, succulent and long with a lasting cedar and cassis finish.
  • Awaroa 'Melba Peach' Syrah 2008 - can Syrah get any better? This simply seduced with lashings of black pepper, red fruits, an incredibly fine silky texture and hinting of the florals the best Syrahs exhibit. Even though it is so youthful, it is creamy and succulent with cherry, vanilla and spice - a blockbuster wine that epitomises what can be achieved in an excellent vintage. 

As well as the vertical of Passage Rock Syrah - which showed the evolution of the wines from this committed producer (these wines will be blogged separately) and the stunning Awaroa 'Melba Peach' Syrah, the other Syrahs to grab the attention were from newcomer producer, 'The Hay Paddock'. They had two wines on show.

  • 'The Hay Paddock Syrah 2006', with 1% Petit Verdot, was perfumed, peppery and floral and though light in the context of other Waiheke blockbusters, this had exceedingly good mouth presence and length.
  • 'The Harvest Man Syrah 2007' is a very forward and likeable wine with loads of pepper and tar over a creamy and silky textured backbone with abundant succulent juicy red fruits. So easy to see why it won that London International Wine Challenge Gold Medal a couple of months ago - their 'second label' too.

Some of my favourite wines of the tasting came from organic producer Awaroa - both the 2006 and 2007 Cabernet Merlot Malbec blends, as well as the 2008 Syrah, mentioned above. Read more about this producer in my Wine of the Week.

But a winery that captivated me from the very first taste was Destiny Bay with three wines on show - the 2006 Destinae, the 2006 Mystae and the 2005 Mystae (Merlot, CS, CF and Malbec). Now despite my comments about the 2005 wines above, for Destiny Bay, to my palate, it was the 2006 wines that were the stars.

  • waiheke3.jpg (37734 bytes)Destinae 2006, a blend of 46% CS, 22% Merlot, 17% Malbec and 15% Cab Franc, has a medium depth to the garnet hue. This is an evocative, silky textured, harmonious wine with ripe plum, cherry, cassis and red gauva fruit and chocolatey oak. It's juicy and smooth with a velvety richness. Oak is classy, texture is sublime and the flavour is long with an earthy, savouriness pushing through.
  • Mystae 2006, a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc and 4 % Malbec is a darker almandine garnet red. Seems to have little expression on the nose, but coming back to it later the scent was gorgeous cedary, vanillin oak, cassis and cherry. That bright cherry / cassis is so profound in the palate with some underlying acidity, leather and tightly structured grippy tannins. A little chunky compared to the glorious Destinae, and acid quite dominant - it needs time to settle - but such long term potential.

I'm glad I didn't know the prices of these wines - the Destinae (…nae rhymes with bay) - the Cab Merlot blend of the tasting and drinking beautifully right now - a mere snip at $75 a bottle - or was it the Mystae that had me iterating more "yums". But at $115 a bottle I'll take the former.

Despite the standouts, there were some disappointments too. I'm rather sensitive to a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces, and this had clearly come along for the ride in many of the wines. But just when does 'Brett' go from being intriguing to intolerable? After talking to many people, it is very much a personal thing. Some wines were also leafy and green.

Nevertheless, there are exciting vinous things happening on Waiheke Island and it really is worth the visit - take your car - as we did last October - or hire one on the island to have that complete sense of freedom. Be sure to check out for up to date winery opening hours and information.

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

Riesling Confusion and Wednesday Tasting highlights

I think I'm going to have to give up Wine Options - I just can't seem to pick the wines. Point in case - two Rieslings tasted during the week - the first at a Wine Options Practice, the second at the Wednesday tasting.

The first was so taut and linear, with a pithy Riesling purity. It had some age, the aromas were earthy and just a little reduced and the flavours were dominantly apple - my immediate reaction was Riesling from the Mosel. So when the question, "Is this Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere," was asked, I was confident that "North" was correct. Wrong. The wine turned out to be Pyramid Valley Lebecca Riesling 2005 ($36) from Marlborough. Still, I am telling myself I could be forgiven, as Pyramid Valley, as well as Fromm, make the most Germanic-like Rieslings you will find in New Zealand. Just 8.5% alcohol too.

Two nights later and I'm sipping on the pretaster for the Wednesday tasting. Riesling again, no doubt about that - it was so light, bright, fruity and fresh - just off-dry with a ton of youthful acidity - reminded me a little of Riverby Sali's Block Marlborough Riesling 2008 from Marlborough - that also has a tropical fruit and citrus sweetness and a dazzling dry finish. So I went Southern Hemisphere when the question was asked. Wrong. This was Dr Loosen Trocken Reisling 2007 ($25) - six months older than the comparative Riverby wine but still so vitally fresh. That had 11.5% alcohol and a screwcap closure, by the way.

With wines like these, however, I'm happy to keep on practising.

At least there was some redemption with a second Riesling served on the Wine Options practice night - and we actually got this wine right. It turned out be Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshöfer Spatlese Riesling 2005 ($40). Simply gorgeous flavours of baked apple and creamed honey with some botrytis influence, a delicately spritzy backbone and a hint of mandarin and lemon grass.

Back to the Wednesday tasting and some real surprises were in store, notably the fine textured and nutty La Chablisienne Vaulorent Premier Cru Chablis 2005 and the luscious Chateau La Tour Sauternes 2005 (375ml, $65). 2005 was a brilliant vintage right across Europe, it seems. I'm going to have to lock that snippet of information in.

Last but not least, to my Red Wine of the Night - Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2007 ($50) from California, USA. We tried this wine when we went to see Bottle Shock and it was beaut to sip on in a social setting when it was accompanied with a selection of cold deli meats. But to taste it again when I could concentrate on it was good too. We don't get enough Californian wines in this country. I wish there more and I wish they had competitive prices too.

We also tasted rather delicious reds from Italy, Portugal, Argentina and of course, Australia. Tasting notes as usual on my Wednesday Roundup page.

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

Bottle Shock feedback

Thanks to Peter May for setting me straight on the Bottle Shock phenomenon in the movie of the same name, reviewed below. I surmised that perhaps the bottles turning brown never happened, as Mike Grgich, the winemaker at the time, denied it.

Peter wrote in his email, "Montelena Chardonnay turning colour (copper) is in the book, reported by Montelena owner Jim Barrett. Happened during bottle ageing and Barrett thought he'd have to sell the wines off cheap, had lined up a buyer but then the wines cleared of their own accord and sale was cancelled. The wine never left the winery cellar. Book says Grgich denies it happened on that vintage, but there's an explanation for the phenomenon."

So it actually did happen even though the vintage is in dispute. The question now is, "why did the wine change colour at all?" That it had been made in a totally anaerobic environment was part of the explanation in the movie.  I asked Peter what the explanation was and he sent me the excerpt from the book, 'The Judgement of Paris' by George Taber, the only journalist to attend the 1976 tasting. The paragraph below may help explain it.

"So-called bottle shock, when unexpected developments in the wine took place after bottling, was fairly common even at some of the most famous and technically advanced wineries. Experts describe a phenomenon like the one that Barrett says happened as "pinking in the bottle," and in the still early days of the California wine revolution the process was not widely understood. Napa Valley wineries in the early 1970s had not yet completely mastered their technology, and were sometimes so anxious to protect Chardonnay from air that they overprotected it. Wine has a natural browning enzyme that disappears when it comes in contact with oxygen, but wineries at that time wanted to make sure no oxygen ever touched their white wines in an attempt to protect their freshness and clarity. If the browning enzyme has no contact with air prior to bottling, a temporary discoloration sometimes turns up in the bottle but then soon naturally disappears."

I've just ordered the book from my library.   Hopefully it will come through on the inter-loan by Friday so I can spend the chilly winter weekend reading it.

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

Exciting Northland Pinotage

Karikari Estate Pinotage 2007 from New Zealand's northernmost winery is reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week.  It was tasted as part of a five vintage vertical of the estate's Pinotage wines, the first ever produced being the 2003 with the next four successive vintages included. Some remarkable similarities in the five wines, mainly the dense appearance, the bittersweet red fruits, underlying wild berry acidity and a savoury, gamey, Pinotage signature.  However the vintage variations, the oak regimes and the acidity and the tannins gave each wine a unique personality.

The delicious 2007 was my top scored wine but the 2003 was a close second favourite - it's performed well in several Pinotage tastings and was a Wine of the Week in November 2006. Actually, despite the different oak regimes, there was a similarity to the equally scored 2006 - this is a fascinating wine - big, rich tarry and chocolatey with vanilla and a red fruit sweetness and something hard to put the finger on, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting.  I note here that this was Neil's favourite.

The 2005 and 2004 were also more of a pair. The 2005 was a monster with big acid and tannins while the 2004 was 'funky' to say the least.   Some Brettanomyces action going on there, I think.

The wines were restoppered (the 2003 and 2004 had screwcaps, the younger wines, Diams) and tasted after several days but the three older wines had gone really weird. They should have been tipped out then but a few days later, as I was checking the dregs in preparation for the week's bottle recycling, they had revived quite remarkably and were actually quite drinkable again!

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

Movie Review: Bottle Shock

bottle shockI went and saw the movie Bottle Shock in the weekend. I'd heard a little bit about it and knew it was about a tasting of Californian wines in Paris held in 1976 on the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. This 'now-famous-in-the-wine-world' event was masterminded by British wine lover, Stephen Spurrier, who owned a wine shop in Paris and ran the adjacent L'Academie du Vin. The French wines would surely be the winners! The result has long been history.

The tasting was dubbed 'The Judgement of Paris' and there's a movie of the same name - an 'official' version that Spurrier supports. So I had no idea what to expect from the Bottle Shock however I knew, thanks to the Internet, that there some controversy when this rival film was being made with the main rub being that Bottle Shock did not portray the facts.

"There is no truth, only versions," say the Rastafarians. Bottle Shock is a Hollywood version and tells a lead up story to the tasting from the 'creative' point of view of one of the California's Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena. And here I learnt that the original event pitted California Chardonnays against White Burgundies as well as California reds against Bordeaux. I didn't know about the whites because a highly publicised 30th anniversary re-enactment in 2006 only featured red wines. White wines didn't feature either in a local New Zealand event held last year called 'The Judgement of Taupo' where six Hawkes Bay reds were tasted along six classed growth Bordeaux and, much to the amazement of many, a New Zealand red came out on top. Not surprisingly the Hawkes Bay PR people likened the 'The Judgement of Taupo' to 'The Judgment of Paris', which is perhaps why one of the Hawkes Bay wineries, Trinity Hill, is sponsoring the film in New Zealand. (You can wine free passes by buying Trinity Hill wines).

In Bottle Shock, it is Chardonnay that is the star and that's refreshing when all recent emphasis has been on the reds. As for the name Bottle Shock, that becomes apparent in the movie when bottles of the featured wine turn brown - some Hollywood license perhaps as Montelena's winemaker at the time, Mike Grgich (who doesn't get much credit in the film) said it didn't actually happen. But it does add much needed drama to the storyline.

The scene changes from Paris to the Napa, back and forth, but enter Mr Spurrier to the California scene portrayed, by all accounts from those who know him, as nothing like the real Stephen Spurrier. But I can imagine how a suit-wearing Brit with a posh, upper class accent would be perceived by a group of jeans and check shirt-clad, country living Napa Valley winemakers. If you think, 'like a snob', you'd be right. And that is how genius actor, Alan Rickman, portrayed him. Yes, Rickman stole many scenes and endeared the character to my heart.

Anyway, there's more to this film than wine geek stuff. It's takes place seven years after Woodstock, we find Chateau Montelena's owner likes to cool off in a boxing ring and there's the obligatory blonde to set up a love triangle.

It's a stellar cast but my other favourite actor was Freddie Rodriguez, who played Gustavo Brambila - a young cellar hand craving to become a winemaker in his own right (he later did). His palate was amazing. I'd love him to be in my wine options team.

If you liked Sideways you'll like Bottle Shock. It's easy viewing with little sex, drugs and rock and roll - but with great scenery and definitely plenty of wine. Check out the trailers on you find the link to the video in one of the wine bottles or if that's too confusing,there's more on or just Google Bottle Shock Movie Preview.

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

Premium drops from Margaret River

With a theme like Everyday versus Premium at the Wednesday tasting, you never know what to expect, so when one premium Margaret River wine was served, it was rather a treat - but to have two of that region's megastars, it was just so totally unexpected.

Moss Wood Margaret River Chardonnay 2007 ($75) is a wine that from my tasting sample, clearly needs time - and that's fitting with the megastar price tag.  Full of nutty, smoky, savoury French oak that provides the solid backbone for the bold fruit that's reminiscent of melon, citrus, canned pineapple and grilled peach - it's big, broad and mealy with a silky texture and phenomenal length.

Cullen Diana Madeleine Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2005 ($85) is like so many Australian blockbusters where the youthful inky colour belies the wine's age. Cabernet Sauvignon dominant (25%) with Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, it's a big, bold opulent red with concentrated fruit flavours supported by fine textured meaty tannins and savoury, cedary, spicy oak.

The other standout wines of the tasting were two incredibly beautiful 10% alcohol Rieslings - Saint Clair Pioneer Block 9 Marlborough Riesling 2007 ($23) and Dry River Late Harvest Martinborough Riesling 2008 ($57).  Which was my favourite?  They were both so delicious in their own special way, I couldn't possibly pick. 

Last but not least, the bargain wine of the evening for lovers of the sweet juicy warm climate South Australian style - it's hard to go past the Ingoldby McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006 ($17).  This label is so back to form - the wine is succulent and delicious and offers unbelievable value.

Twelve wines tasted in total - my notes, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup Page.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jun 2nd 2009

Outstanding Lineup of New Zealand Pinot Noir

There's no Wine of the Week this week because the long holiday weekend just got in the way - and that's what holiday weekends are for, I'm sure. Besides the Stonyridge tasting that features as the current WOTW really deserves to stay in frontline focus for a few days more. But some stunning wines were tasted in two sessions over the weekend and those tastings revealed some absolute stars.

One tasting was my team's Wine Options practice with New Zealand Pinot Noirs placed in a lineup and tasted blind. We did this because we were trying to nail the regional characteristics and the so called 'terroir' - but as usual this proved to be difficult given the intensity of the wines from the 2007 season and the winemaker influence in use of oak and extraction of flavour.

We knew there were at least three Central Otago wines, they had been chosen for their wine competition record so the first task was to select the three Otago wines without actually having to name names. Did anyone have 100% success? Sadly, no.

Two of the tasters picked two correctly and the other two, including me, picked only one. My success was Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 (two gold medals, $46) - it had that typical Central Otago full-bodied succulence with chocolate and abundant, deliciously ripe, black cherry fruit.  Three of our team were correct with this one.

wycroft peacockAnother wine with a similar succulence - intense, ripe and inviting with a ripe, concentrated sweet fruit palate and underlying acidity that gave a peacock's tail flare to the finish, was Wycroft Old River Terrace Pinot Noir 2007 from the Wairarapa. (Coincidentally, I found out later, this has a peacock, with tail in full flare, on the label).

Then to my shame, my third Central Otago pick actually came from Nelson. This was Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir 2007 ($50) with rich, ripe fruit and sweet oak and chocolate aromas that carry through to the palate - a massive wine with firm tannins and delicious winey concentration. I can't remember a more forward and voluptuous young Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir than this.  Two of our team went Otago on this.

As for the Otago wines I missed, there was the super Olssens Jackson Barry Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 (four golds and two trophies, $40) but with its smoky bacon and earth aromas and intensely deep savoury flavours with mushroom and dirt, I though it had to be from Nelson or Martinborough. Perhaps the sweet spicy fruitcake and succulent cherry flavours were the Otago key?  None of our team picked this as Otago!!!! What does that say?

The other was the powerful Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 (four golds and one trophy, $38), which I also thought from much further north. It was smoky, savoury and earthy with violet nuances, big oak, massive tannins and lots of spice. I guess I was looking for more distinctive Central Otago-like fruit but I was the only Otago defector on this little beauty.

I picked a Marlborough wine correctly, the Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 ($23), which delivers distinct savoury Pinot Noir flavours in a medium-bodied package. I rated it 16.5/20. It was put in the lineup to correlate to another similar priced Marlborough 2008 wine - a sample one of the guys was assessing, but of all the wines in the tasting the 'concocted-like' sample was the only wine that failed to gain a medal rating.

I admit that I initially thought that Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera Pinot Noir 2008 ($32) could be from Marlborough due to its acidity and freshness - yet that was vintage rather than region confusion. As the afternoon wore on it was much more distinctly Martinborough with truffle and smoky bacon aromas, an earthy savoury concentration, hints of stewed tamarillo and a ripe fruit finish. Rated 17.5/20 now, I think it will evolve to be an excellent follow-on from the trophy winning 2007.

mbvpn07Last of all was a wine whose region I thankfully nailed. It was Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Terrace Pinot Noir 2007 ($70) - a deeply coloured, beguilingly scented wine with earth, wild herbs and bittersweet red fruit amongst the big bold flavours. It has all the hallmarks of a classic - intense and spicy with a huge tannin structure yet succulent and sultry - an absolute keeper. This was my Wine of the Tasting and the Wine of the Weekend -and I probably would have featured as Wine of the Week if I had got round to writing it. I rated it easily 19/20.

A super tasting of super star wines - with all the 'known' wines living up to their reputation - those with scores not shown above all achieved my personal rating of 18.5/20.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2009