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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: July 2009
Jul 27th: Noble Sweetie Wine of the Week
Jul 25th: Airline Wine and Food
Jul 23rd: Matakana Matches with Crusted Lamb
Jul 22nd: Pinot, Tamarillo and Thai Basil Beef
Jul 20th: Lost and found in Muddy Water
Jul 17th: Not So Common Verdejo from Spain
Jul 16th: Earthquakes, Earth's End and the Haka
Jul 15th: Compare and contrast two Pegasus Bay reds
Jul 14th: Bastille Day tipple
Jul 13th: Vibes from the Hawkes Bay Hot Red Road Show
Jul 11th: A wine from New Zealand's first Chinese owned vineyard
Jul 9th: Hot red Marzemino and a blockbuster called TOM
Jul 6th: Hedonsitic Sweetie
Jul 5th: Just a tiny trickle of new vintage Sauvingon Blanc
Jul 4th: A toast to the USA with ESJ
Jul 4th: Kiwi winners overseas and other news tipples
Jul 3rd: Recent Wednesday Highlights and more on the recent Waiheke Expo
Jul 1st: Maximus at Minimus
Older Entries

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

Noble Sweetie Wine of the Week

"It's 'cabin attendant'," writes Peter May in reference to my use of 'stewardess' in my previous blog entry. I'm currently on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland with two girlfriends that live in this part of the world - a holiday reunion of sorts - the three of us worked together years ago - I won't say how many years - and we've kept in touch ever since. June who lives inland further north near Gympie, has been guiding us to the wineries in the hinterland (ie the hills of the Connodale Range). It's a new experience for Helen, too, who lives further south on the Gold Coast. I'm compiling notes and will post in a couple of days on my return to NZ but meanwhile I've found free wifi internet at McDonalds to post this week’s Wine of the Week. None of the Queensland wines made the grade so it's a gorgeous sweet wine from Hawkes Bay - Church Road Noble Semillon 2002. Click here to read the review.

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

Airline Wine and Food

"Would you like a wine to accompany your meal?" asked the stewardess. (There probably is a more politically correct name, but can't think of it right now).

"Could I see the wine list, please?"

"We don't have a wine list. Would you like white or red?"

"Well, what exactly are you offering?"

We have two whites - the Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and the Mt Arthur Chardonnay 2006."

"Is that the Saint Clair with the blue label?" I said,

"Yes. And we have two reds - Stoneleigh Pinot Noir 2006 and Vidal Syrah 2006."

"Oh, OK, would it be okay it had a little taste of them all? Just a taste, not a glass? I'm a wine writer and I've heard that wines can taste different at 10,000m in the air," I added. I had read recently it was a good idea to say something like this so she didn't think I was simply a lush.

"That would be fine," she said.

A few minutes later the first wine arrived.

Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007, two years on from vintage, is deep straw gold in colour . Where are the aromatics? Perhaps it is the glass, which is not very good for swirling. At least the glass is not full and I can get my nose right in without getting it wet. I detect a pungent toastiness. The taste still offers a modicum of zingy brightness but those distinctive vegetal characters that come with bottle age are very much present. The fruit is mellow and reminiscent of tropical fruit, pineapple, grapefruit and lime. The flavours increase in power and pungency and the finish is long.

Kahurangi Mt Arthur Moutere Chardonnay 2006 from Nelson is moderate yellow gold with a sunny brightness. The nose is powerful, especially when compared to the savvie and offering mellow biscuity oak and slightly buttery scents. A bright spicy style with a fine smooth texture, French oak to the fore, tropical fruit and a rich toasty finish.

My entree, a Peter Gordon styled prawn, mango and pecan with salad greens was a little boring on its own but the three main ingredients piled together on the fork and washed down with the Chardonnay was particularly inspiring.

I asked if I could taste the two reds together.

Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 is still quite a deep ruby with moderate depth to the hue. On the nose it is savoury, earthy and a little funky and while reasonably aromatic, no fruit aromas were detected at all. But the flavours were bright and  spicy, gentle yet lively, full of cherry and plum with a hint of poached tamarillo and a rich savoury undercurrent with a mellow earthiness creeping in. The gorgeous long finish lingered gently with a lovely savouriness. A classy wine.

Vidal Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 is a striking violet black colour in the glass - opaque in the core with blackberry edges. Aromas are earthy and deep with leather and meat - but no fruit - or pepper - at all.  But pepper abounds in the palate which is rich and powerful with cedary oak, blackberry fruit and hints of rose petal on the finish. Tannins are rich, deep and perhaps a little hard and the finish is creamy and long. But all the while a leathery note that, for me, distracted.  

Geoff Scott’s lamb cutlet, lamb shank, kumara and spinach custard was my choice for the main course and the spinach custard, I have to say, was absolutely divine. This was a big meal in a small plate with lots of gravy - thanks goodness for the serviette tucked in under the chin.

"Would you like a glass of wine now madam?"

It wasn't hard to make a choice because one wine was superb with the lamb. "Yes, I'd love a glass of the Stoneleigh please."

As for wine tasting 10,000 metres asl, it seemed the fruit aromas were totally subdued.

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

Matakana Matches with Crusted Lamb

What goes best with a herb crusted rack of lamb - a Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet or a Marlborough Pinot Noir? Two wines from Matakana Estate gave us the opportunity to find out. Interesting to find they are now going outside the Matakana region to source the absolute best for their premium Matakana Estate label - although a bit confusing to find a Matakana wine is not a Matakana wine, if you know what I mean.

First the wines were tasted on their own

Matakana Estate Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Franc 2007 ($29) is a deeply coloured red with hints of black. Concentrated cassis and plum aromas with hints of liquorice and nutmeg are powerfully scented. Spicy vanillin oak asserts it presence on entry to the palate. Juicy and succulent fruit harmonises with the savoury backbone and the tannins are silky and fine. A deep earthy nuance on the finish. A profound Hawkes Bay blend - as good as the best from the Bay - I though this wine quite magnificent and rated it 18.5/20 (5 stars). Fruit comes from the Prospect Vineyard located on Maraekakaho Road in the Ngatarawa Triangle. 71% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Franc matured in French oak barriques (40% new) for 12 months..

Matakana Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 ($32) has aromas of bittersweet red fruits, dried aromatic herbs, woodsmoke in the distance, kir and wine soaked mushrooms. There's loads of tamarillo in this wine - poached tamarillo - you know like when you scoop the flesh out of a tamarillo - that intriguing bitter sweet flesh, then that rush of acidity that follows. There's sweetness to counterbalance it - a distinctive cherry chocolate sweetness with gentle tannins, savoury oak, dried cherries and vanilla infused spice. A hint of liquoricey herbs too. Quite an oaky pinot and a little awkward on its own - fruit was from the Delta Vineyard in the Middle to upper Wairau and was matured in French oak barriques (one third new) for ten months. I rated it 16.5/20 (3.5 stars).

rackoflamb.jpgIt was Neil's cooking night and he was doing masterful things in the kitchen mixing up  coarse breadcrumbs, spring onions, a clove of garlic and dried oregano and thyme (that had been in the cupboard for years), pressing it onto the back of the lamb rack. To accompany it, he whipped up a side of pan-fried white button and large flat mushrooms and herb roasted potatoes. I could smell the gorgeous aromas wafting in from the kitchen, so had to go in and inspect while the meat was resting. Standing over the stove with glass of Matakana Estate Pinot Noir in hand, the aromas of the wine, the herb crusted lamb and the sauteed mushrooms harmonised perfectly. Everything totally jelled - they could be one. Then a few minutes later, when we started eating, suddenly the wine that was just a little awkward on its own became one with the food for the most incredible mouth arousing combination. The three and a half star wine morphed into a five star beauty.

As for the delicious Merlot Cabernet - as it turned out this particular food match was better with the Pinot Noir. Matakana Estate recommend blackcurrant infused eye fillet of beef, with cherry and black pepper jus on a brunoise of roasted vegetables. Check out their new website -

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

Pinot, Tamarillo and Thai Basil Beef

The tamarillos in the fruit bowl needed to be eaten. I love these bittersweet fruits that have their origins in South America - tree tomatoes we used to call them when I was young - now they are better known as tamarillos. They definitely have an affinity with Pinot Noir.

I decided to make an experimental dish with ingredients on hand - cross cut blade steak, tamarillos, Thai basil (from a 'living pot' on the window sill because the frost killed off the plants that had been growing outside) and wine. The concept for my Tamarillo and Thai Basil Beef was rather simple.

Place four pieces of cross cut blade in the bottom of a 'Dutch oven' or similar casserole dish you can cover. Blanch four tamarillos and peel off the skin. Cut the fruit into quarters, lengthwise and layer four quarters across the top of each steak. Season with salt and pepper. Add 3/4 cup of pinot noir and 3/4 c of water for the cooking liquid. Add sprigs of Thai Basil - as many as you like. (I like lots). Cover and bake in a slow oven - at least two hours so the meat is pull apart tender with the fork. Reduce the liquid remaining if you need too - I find that it reduces quite nicely on its own. Serve with favourite winter vegetables eg a kumara and potato mash and beans. Match to Pinot Noir.

I used Boundary Vineyards Kings Road Waipara Pinot Noir 2008 ($22.95) for the cooking. This has a bright ruby purple colour of moderate depth. The taste is also bright, spicy and gently savoury with layers of bittersweet Chilean guava and tamarillo fruit. A lighter style of Pinot, it was just too light to match the beef as a main course wine even thought the fruit pointers were there. It is best to sip on while the main course is cooking or match to lighter food - perhaps a pan-fried salmon entree.

A rescue wine was found - a favourite label in our house from Mr Just at Clayridge.

Clayridge Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 ($29) is a deep savoury wine - rounded and intense - it is Pinot Noir with layers and loads of finesse - the kind of Pinot Noir that we like to drink. It has well-balanced underlying acidity, fine textured velvety tannins with just a little bit of grip, gorgeous fleshy bittersweet fruit and essential savouriness rounding out the finish. This full-bodied Pinot was definitely a triumph with the dish and also very nice to sip on after the food was gone.

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

Lost and Found in Muddy Water

Earlier today I wrote up this week's Wine of the Week - Muddy Water Chardonnay 2007 - the tasting note is good but it was done from memory because I couldn't find my tasting note.   But after much searching the original note has been discovered in one of my many 5c 3B1 notebooks, bought at the New Year's sale. So here's the note I made at the time -

Light straw gold in colour, this is a rich malty style with lots of luscious lemony mealy influences and a touch of caramel.  This is so totally putting its fruit out there - stonefruit, citrus and melon on a polished French oak platter - a gorgeous gorgeous Chardonnay with a toasty caramel corn finish that lingers for ages. 14.4% alcohol.  $32. Screwcap closure.

Not too much difference really between fact and fiction - perhaps a little. The bottom line is that this Chardonnay is immediately appealing - particularly if you like this style.

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

Not So Common Verdejo from Spain

Not So Common was the theme of last Wednesday's tasting and one wine was so rare only a couple of people had even heard of the grape variety before. It was Verdejo, a Spanish grape variety that's been around for a long time and traditionally used to make sherry. It sounds and looks on paper like a little like Verdelho, but I'm told the Spanish Verdejo and the Portuguese Verdelho are not related. Verdelho's synonym in Spain is Verdello.

According to, Verdejo is of very high quality and one of the best white varieties in Spain. It makes very aromatic, glyceric, soft wines with body. It is plentiful in Valladolid, Segovia and Ávila. It is considered a main variety of Rueda DO.

More detail is given on the Wines of Rueda DO website where we find that its origins date back to the 11th century.

The Verdejo we tasted doesn't mention Rueda, however it comes from the same general region in Castilla y León and its name is Ossian.

ossian by Sue CourtneyOssian Verdejo 2007 is light gold in colour and is quite nutty - almond-like - on the nose - a hint of marzipan perhaps - and delicately floral. Very dry and lean to start in the mouth with a lightly oily texture, bitter lemon, apple, a sprinkle of white pepper and salt-infused zest, it then builds in vinosity and textural complexity to become quite rich on the long penetrating finish where a suggestion of tarragon-like herb lingers and adds intrigue.

Evidently this is one of Spain's greatest whites, inspired by Le Montrachet  - that great White Burgundy - and is made from 180-year old ungrafted organic grapes.   The label says it was barrel-fermented and had 9 months in French oak although I didn't really pick up the oak in the tasting - it's so subtle and integrated. I didn't find any Chardonnay resemblance either. It has 13.5% alcohol and is sealed with a natural cork. It costs NZ$65 a bottle, which makes it one of the most expensive Spanish whites you'll find in New Zealand. (Actually I saw it another retailer for NZ$80 a bottle!!!!)

I liked this wine, tasted blind, although a bit blown away when the price was revealed. But with its seemingly high acid and dry disposition, it would be the perfect match for the more delicate types of seafood.

Definitely a treat to try and my Wine of the Night. Check out the rest of my Wednesday tasting notes from the 'Not So Common' tasting here.

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

Earthquakes, Earth's End and the Haka

Here in the shaky isles a 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent shock waves rippling through the South Island last night. It was the biggest earthquake recorded in New Zealand in nearly 80 years.* The earth didn't come to an end and we didn't feel it in Auckland but the ground will be shaking here on Saturday night when the All Blacks meet the Wallabies at Eden Park for the first 2009 Bledisloe Cup rugby game. Not only shaking ground but also well-tuned rippling thighs as the All Blacks do the haka prior to the kick-off whistle being blown. The haka is a long time rugby tradition and most New Zealanders chant "Ka mate; Ka mate; Ka Ora; Ka Ora" in time with the players as they perform the symbolic dance**

But now we can drink a tasty little Central Otago Pinot Noir and use the graphics on the bottle's label to help us with the rest of the words as well as the moves. Just make sure you put the screwcap back on the bottle if you hold it in front of you to guide you through the dance. The contents are for drinking, not spilling on the floor.

The wine is Earth's End Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 - a tasty, medium-boded Pinot Noir made to drink without too much preciousness or sensory analysis. A moderate to deep pink garnet colour it has a smoky, savoury, cherry 'fruit paste' scent (Rutherford and Meyer make a good cherry fruit paste, by the way). The flavours are earthy, funky and savoury with chocolate, smoke, herbs and a depth of cherry fruit. A young, fresh wine with palate richness and silky tannins, it skips down rather easily. It has 13.5% alc and costs just under $30.

The wine is made by Mt Edward and it is part of what they call "New Zealand Icon Series Number 1". I wonder what icon they'll come up with next. Maybe we'll read about it on 'coming soon' website -

For earthquake fans, while last night's earthquake in Fiordland, was not really near wine country - the closest region being Central Otago where last night's shock waves were definitely felt, evidence of New Zealand's other big earthquakes can be seen in wine country today.  Marlborough had a 7.8 magnitude earthquake along the Awatere Fault in 1848 with damage seen in the Wairau and Waihopai Valleys.  Napier's 7.8 earthquake, the country's most deadly, was in 1931. GeoNet has all the details.

** The All Blacks website has more on the Haka including videos - click here.

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

Compare and contrast two Pegasus Bay reds

Pegasus Bay in Waipara, on the east coast of the South Island south of Marlborough, is best known for radiant Rieslings and powerful Pinot Noirs, but it is a little known fact this winery is also one of the best South Island producers of red wine made from the grapes that traditionally hail from Bordeaux. Just recently I had the opportunity to taste two Pegasus Bay reds from the 2005 vintage, together. It provided the opportunity to 'compare and contrast'.

Pegasus Bay Maestro 2005 is a deep boysenberry red with a crimson purple hue, Full of concentrated brambles on the nose - ripe dusty blackberries spring to mind - and meaty, savoury nuances too. Sweet cherry, plum and bramble fruit fill the palate - succulent and concentrated fruit with velvet-rubbed-the-wrong-way tannins, vanillin oak and a spicy, almost floral flourish to the finish - yes, violets, most definitely. Chocolate too. A massive wine with a delicious meaty richness - definitely the powerhouse of the two. Made from a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Malbec, the destemmed berries were fermented in vats with pumping over to enable 'excellent extraction' of colour & tannin. Post ferment maceration was done in sealed vats. The wine was transferred to French barriques for two years, then large oak vats for nine months more before blending. Alcohol is 14.5%. Closure is screwcap. Price is about $45. My score 4.5 stars or 18/20.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Merlot Cabernet 2005 is a similar in colour but seems finer in textural appearance and is not so saturated right to the edges. Lighter on the nose but still in a dense kind of way - woody and cedary with fruit more in the fruitcake cherry spectrum and hints of chocolate too. That woodiness carries through to the palate, which is fine textured and silky compared to the Maestro. A fresh, medium bodied wine with underlying acidity and savoury, meaty, spicy flavours with lots of brambles - and dried herb and floral notes to the cherry/redcurrant and creamy vanillin oak finish. Made from six 6 clones of Merlot, three clones of Malbec, two of Cabernet Sauvignon and one of Cabernet Franc - the wine was matured in oak barriques, 30% new, for 2 years. Alcohol is 14.5%. Closure is screwcap. Price is about $29. My score 4 stars or 17/20.

The glasses were presented on the table for tasting blind but when tasted together it wasn't too hard to work out which one was which. They were quite similar in many ways especially the aromatic sensory perception but the one I picked as the Maestro was most definitely the more powerful and concentrated of the two - and so it should be because it is, well, the conductor - the Maestro - while the other provides that depth of tone and harmony that we expect from the orchestra with all those clones.

The dinner accompaniment was succulent fillets of lamb - a very good match indeed.

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

Bastille Day tipple

Found an old Gewurztraminer probably badly in need of drinking so the foil was cut and the cork pulled. The wine was Paul Ginglinger Gewurztraminer 1995 - Vins d'Alsace.
A clear bright gold in the glass - lustrous - like a heliodor gemstone. Surprisingly fruity on the nose - a hint of cherimoya perhaps - with a mellow gentleness to the spicy flavour - loads of lemon meringue yet dry, not sweet, as lemon meringue could suggest. Lightly oily in texture with a butter lolly finish - the butteriness coming from the age - then the fruit - that amazing fruit - now hinting of apricot - lingering for ages. Hints of ginger too. Well, I never would have expected something this fresh from a 14-year-old wine. A pleasant surprise. It's fat and full and nice to just sip on after dinner even though it was opened to match the main course. The wine has 13% alcohol and was imported into New Zealand by Eurowine Fine Wines - the proprietaire's future website is

Many people spell Gewurztraminer with an umlaut over the 'u' - it's important to note there is no umlaut in the French spelling of this wine. It often amuses me when I see New World versions that say how they are made in the style of Alsace, then they use the German spelling !!!! Viva la France, it's Bastille Day after all.

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

Vibes from the Hawkes Bay Hot Red Road Show

These are some of my favourite tipples from the Hawkes Bay Hot Red event last week. I wished I could have tasted the wines with Geoff Kelly precision and look forward to his reviews when he posts them on his website in a few weeks time - at the Wellington edition of this event he managed to collect samples of every wine (130+ samples) to assess in a blind tasting format later at his home. I thought about collecting samples but when it comes to the bottom line, I simply don't have the time. So these are just quick impressions from the open tasting walk-around format. It was a bit 'pick and choose' on my part. I bypassed some stands, like Villa Maria, Sileni and Trinity Hill because I was familiar with their wines while other stands, like Matariki, I didn't get to because they were simply too crowded when I passed by. At some stands I limited my tastings to only one wine. In the end I tasted about 36 wines in total and like at the Waiheke Expo, there was a taste of Brett (yeast spoilage) left in my mouth at times.

The Church Road Marzemino 2007 and the prestige Church TOM 2005 have already been reviewed (see Jul 9th entry below) - these are some of the others that took my fancy - quite possibly in the order they most impressed.


Lisa DayshBridge Pa Vineyard Reserve Syrah 2007 - this is a gorgeous, juicy opulent wine with a creamy oak scent and a huge peppery profile - very concentrated, rich and deep - I loved this wine - one of my favourite wines of the whole day. $36.

Vidal Reserve Syrah 2007 - typical juicy fruit opulence - well-balanced spice, violets and florals, lots of pepper coming through, finely structured - met the expectations expected from this label - I wrote "wonderful". $55.

Wild Rock Angels Dust Reserve Syrah 2007 - Gimblett Gravels - Distinctive peppery nose, sweet lifted fruit palate with pepper, violet, plum and cassis, firm tannins, liquorice and a deep earthy intensity. Lovely sweet fruit finish with lingering violet, black nugget and spice. Made by Craggy Range. $31.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 'Block 14' Syrah 2007 - More concentrated and earthy than the Wild Rock tasted immediately before it - this has creamy oak and concentrated black cherry and plum fruit, the tannins are big and the finish is succulent. Quite brooding at this tasting with oak masking the delicate varietal pepper and floral characters I was hoping to find. $37.95.

Crossroads Elms Vineyard Hawkes Bay Reserve Syrah 2007 - concentrated aroma of violet, chocolate, nutmeg and spice. Dense concentrated palate - purple and blackberry fruit, violets galore, pepper and fruitcake spices and a nut chocolate finish. Smooth, succulent and creamy yet still has cellarworthy tannic grip. $40.

Beach House Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2007 - ripe fruit style. Creamy, pepper and nutmeg scents with a vanillin infusion. Concentrated, full-bodied, sweetish plummy style. Has that Aus-like succulence with cool climate indicators. Thought this had American oak - but no- it is the ripeness from the vintage. As well the vines are on own roots and this must add some vinous complexity. $28.

Wishart Te Puriri Syrah 2006 - peppery scents- made me sneeze - polished French oak, high-toned medium-weight palate, spicy and floral with leafy notes and brambles and a hint of chocolate too with a lovely touch of fruit sweetness on the lingering finish. $19.95.

Salvare Gimblett Road Syrah 2007 - I tasted the Salvare wines at the vineyard in February when the bottles had been opened too long - today the wines had been opened only an hour or so and were so much fresher. The 2007 Syrah is richer than the 2006 - savoury and earthy to start becoming quite juicy - fruit reminiscent of blood peach - slightly grippy tannins with tar and leather on the finish. $19.95.

Bordeaux grape reds

Paul MooneyMission Jewelstone Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot 2007 - a gorgeous wine - such a seductive fragrance - the floral allure of Cabernet Franc - underlying tobacco nuances from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Creamy oak, huge tannins then that succulence comes through and totally delivers a gorgeous mouthful of concentrated full-bodied wine. That Petit Verdot adds an x-factor, I'm sure. This is what I call 'poetry wine'. One of the finds of the tasting. $38.

Esk Valley 'The Terraces' Malbec Merlot and Cabernet Franc 2006 - As Gordon Russell pours the wine he announces, "This is Pinot Noir made from Bordeaux varieties". What! How does he come to that conclusion? Perhaps it is the earthiness but I'm not sure. Brooding, savoury and earthy with concentrated juicy red fruit - the floral earthy Malbec asserts dominance - juicy, savoury, juicy and long, some underlying dried herbs and some meaty notes too. - long, sweet-fruited and juicy with hits of cherry and vanilla - and a finish that is phenomenally long. $125.

CJ Pask Declaration Malbec 2005 - Gimblett Gravels fruit. This is a blockbuster - big creamy oak nose, succulent flavour with abundant American oak, concentrated red fruits, spice and a grunty earthy backbone. The finish is savoury finish with some 'nice' leather coming through and those varietal florals adding to the all round appeal. One for people like me with a Malbec fetish. $50.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot 2007 - deep purple colour, perfumed, succulent yet still a little brooding. Dense, savoury palate, concentrated and full, plum and blackberry fruit, mouthcoating tannins and hints of anise - excellent potential. $29.95.

Clearview Estate Winery Two Pinnacles 2007 - a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - this has a vivid and dense colour with a clean, spicy, lifted floral aroma and a smooth harmonious palate with excellent fruit weight and a peppery flourish to the finish. $26.

Wishart Legend 2005 - a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah from the Bay View subregion - a ripe, juicy wine with Syrah adding a spicy layer with a fruit cake spiciness too. Big tannins and quite savoury - a powerful wine with just a hint of that 'fragrant little Bretty yeast'. $35.

Other Varieties

Vidal Reserve Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2007 - this really is 'other' for the Bay, but a beautiful rendition of North Island Pinot Noir nevertheless - a palate refresher in the midst of big bold reds. Fragrant, earthy and savoury, moderate palate weight, gentle attack, lovely tamarillo-like bittersweet fruit with a touch of strawberry and a background of integrated French oak. $29.95.

Babich Winemaker's Reserve Gimblett Gravels Pinotage 2006 - a medium bodied style - smooth and gentle with earth, spice, leather and succulent brambly fruit. This is the last vintage for this label as the vines have since been pulled out. "Everyone says they love it," said Babich's John Lang. It's just a pity they never bought it - if they had, it might still be being made. $25.

Beach House Gimblett Gravels Montepulciano 2007 - really concentrated and fruit-cakey with a big tannin palate and a bit of an 'old worlde' pong. $45.

So that's it for now. I guess what was interesting about this tasting is not just who was there, but also who was not there. Te Mata Estate, Sacred Hill, Mills Reef, Te Awa and Unison, to name a few, were missing. I was also looking forward to tasting Ash Ridge Wines, but they only road-showed in Wellington.

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

A wine from New Zealand's first Chinese owned vineyard

Today we braved the stormy weather and popped down to Thames, the western gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula about an hour and a half's drive from central Auckland. Our business was not wine but we stopped at Totara Vineyards (between Kopu and Thames) anyway. I mentioned this vineyard a couple of weeks ago in relation to Chinese winemakers*. Well, Totara Vineyards is still alive but the shop is not just a winery cellar door any more. It's a bottle shop packed with many fine wine treasures. There are Totara wines too while a range of Totara ports, sherries and liqueurs, including the kiwifruit liqueur and the famous Totara Cafe, are open for tasting.

Totara has a second label called 'Pinnacle' which is a non-vintage blend - the red label is Merlot and the black label is Cabernet Merlot. The Totara label itself is a bit of a blast from the past. I found a 2006 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a 1998 Hawkes Bay Chardonnay and a 1998 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon.

"We don't really concentrate on table wines any more," said the lady minding the shop.  "There's just too much competition".

After some deliberation, I decided to buy the Cabernet Sauvignon, which, at $17.99 a bottle, was also the most expensive. The Chardonnay was only $5, but I was warned it could be past it. 1998 in Hawkes Bay was a very hot year and so the Cabernet was worth a try and it had probably been cellared in the shop, without moving, since the time it was bottled or, at the very most, brought from back room storage to the shop floor.

Back at home I gingerly removed the cork to find it was a twintop and had virtually no staining. It made an impressible 'pop'.

totaracs.jpg (23796 bytes)Totara Winemakers Reserve Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 is dense in colour, blackish in the core, fading garnet on the edges. Incredibly fruity on the nose - concentrated blackcurrant and blackberry jelly with a dusty backing of vanillin cedar and just a touch of liquorice - showing some age but not 11 years. The fruit carries through to the palate - classic blackcurrant with Cabernet's typical leafiness followed by an earthy savouriness with tobacco, chocolate, strawberry and cherry, becoming rather intriguingly pinot noir-like on the finish - and a young pinot noir resemblance too. Tannins are dusty with just a little bit of grip and the vinously sweet finish is long.

An interesting tipple - not bad for 11 years old - not a blockbuster but still very drinkable. Just 12.5% alcohol by volume too. The only thing on its down side is that perhaps it's a little acidic - but that in turn may have helped its longevity. We enjoyed the experience, especially when accompanied (at short notice on arriving home) with aged piquant cheddar. I'd rate it solid bronze medal standard.

Totara Vineyards was established in 1990 by winemaker Gilbert Chan. His father owned the business named Totara SYC from 1950 - 1990.  Prior to that it was known as Gold Leaf Vineyards, established in 1925 and New Zealand's first Chinese owned vineyard.

There are still grapevines growing at Totara but fruit for the table wines is sourced from elsewhere.

*In addition to the story on June 25th about Chinese winemakers in New Zealand, I've since heard from Johnny Leung of Twilight Vineyards, who is currently in Hong Kong.   There he is marketing himself as New Zealand's first Hong Kong-born Chinese winemaker - I guess the reporters he told that to decided to leave out some of this information. It happens.

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

Hot red Marzemino and a blockbuster called TOM

It was sizzling today at Hot Red Hawkes Bay, the event where Hawkes Bay winemakers come to town in winter to show off their vinous creations to the red-struck crowd. Held in Auckland on the 7th floor of the Heritage Hotel, in the Art Deco tearoom, all of the curtains had to be drawn to keep the heat out. It may have been a mid winter's day but it was that kind of day where you dress up warmly in the morning with loads of layers so as you get hotter and hotter, the layers can peel off one by one. Some of the wine was pretty hot too.

I made a beeline to the Church Road stand, not for the reason that many others did, that is to be poured a taste of the flagship Tom, but to taste the most unusual wine in the room.

The wine was Church Road Limited Release Cuve Marzemino 2007. It's a wine I had seen in the Church Road portfolio but with 'cellar door only' availability, it hadn't been shown before and I hadn't managed a trip to the cellar door. First trialed in 1998 and grown on the Redstone Vineyard in 'The Triangle' subregion of Hawkes Bay, only 200 cases of this vintage was made. This grape has Italian origins, mainly in the north east, and for those who love trivia, it was said to be Mozart's favourite grape.  This Hawkes Bay version is deep purple red, vivid and dense. Floral with concentrated berries on the nose - loads of purples, earth and leather. When Phil Bothwell says, "The Italian version of Malbec", I see some resemblance but this is brighter - more acidity, perhaps. Nutty and creamy with supple tannins and not as 'rustic' (the notes said 'rustic') as I thought it was going to be. I really liked it.

So I tried a couple more of the Cuve wines then winemaker Nick picked up the TOM. "I'd suppose you'd like to try this," he surmised. "Okay then, " I replied.

Church Road TOM 2005 has all the hallmarks of becoming a classic. I didn't get a whiff of any spoiled yeast character (ie Brett) that I'd found in previous vintages, mind you I have not tasted TOM for a while. I didn't go to Hot Red last year and then, the year before that, by the time I arrived at the Church Road stand, TOM had long gone. The 2005 vintage is a concentrated purple red with creamy oak aromas (I wrote 'clean'). Dense and rich in the palate, extremely concentrated with florals, dried tarragon, concentrated cassis, plum, spice and toasty French oak with tannins still to settle a little at this stage - it's not going to be released for another 18 months anyway - but what wonderful potential.

Note to self: "wouldn't this be interesting to put against Stonyridge Larose 2005 in a couple of year's time".

As for the rest of the wines - some other star performers too. I made 'vibes' rather than lengthy tasting notes as a trade tasting with crowds of people is not really the forum to get into too much detail even though I try. So I'll write up some of the Hawkes Bay hot red 'vibes' sometime in the weekend.

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

Hedonistic Sweetie

A couple of days ago I reported on the Australian Boutique Wine Awards - where New Zealand wines took out five 'Best of Class' accolades. One of those wines is, coincidentally, this week's Wine of the Week. Johanneshof Noble Late Harvest Marlborough Riesling 2007 is downright delicious either on its own as a hedonistic after dinner tipple - or with a warm winter sponge or cake-like pudding.   Our accompaniment was a carrot cake pudding with vanilla ice cream and the wine and food combo was divine.  Click here to read my Wine of the Week review.

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

Just a tiny trickle of new vintage Sauvignon Blanc

Usually by this time of year there's a buzz about the new vintage Sauvignon Blanc - but not this year.  There's hardly any 2009 Sauvignon Blanc to be seen and no race between the early release wines to be first to market. So what's the delay? Well, it's not very hard to figure out that, with such a ginormous output last year, there is still plenty of 2008 vintage savvie to be sold.

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009, which I previewed back in May and tasted again last Wednesday was 'officially' released on July 1st. Then on Friday another producer's wine crossed my path.  Called Sea Level, this is a new label but with great provenance as it is made by winemaker Sam Smail who works alongside Simon Waghorn at Astrolabe and Whitehaven and consults to other producers including Koura Bay, Terrace Heights and Bladen. 

Sea Level Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is a bright punchy number with tropical island scents of coconut and lime and loads of pungent coriander. The taste is a full throttle attack of vibrant yellow fruits with classic herbaceousness, a touch of honey and lime, and loads of green apple coming through on the finish. Just a little hard on the back palate but should settle with just a little more time. 13 % alcohol and a screwcap closure but don't know the price - it was someone else's sample.  Interestingly and slightly confusingly, Sea Level states on the back label that their origin is in Nelson.

People have asked me what I think of the 2009 vintage but after tasting only two wines, it's very hard to say.  2008 had much variation with the wines made from grapes picked before the rain quite sensational - one of the early wines I tried last year, Eradus, went on to win several gold medals. Rain stayed away during the picking season this year so there was no panic to get the grapes in. The best wines will have been picked at optimum ripeness and will not be from overcropped vineyards. There are lots of pointers to say 2009 will be as exciting as the last 'great' savvie vintage, which is my book is 2006.  I'll know more after big tastings planned for August and September.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jul 4th 2009

A toast to the USA with ESJesj.jpg (24200 bytes)

Edmunds St Johns Shell and Bone Paso Robles Red 2003
This wine was a gift from a visitor from USA and being July 4th, it's the perfect time to open it. A fading garnet red in colour, the aroma is smoky and savoury with an earthy depth - some richness of cherry shining through too - if we had been drinking this blind, the colour and the aroma would probably make me decide it was Pinot Noir. The nose is intriguing - vinous - dense - even a little floral - then some chocolate - lots of satisfaction from the bouquet alone - the mellow bottle age character adding additional complexity - and later strawberries too.

Smooth on entry to palate - and despite what the aromas try to infer, it is unlike any Pinot Noir I've tasted before - that's because it is a Pinot Noir free zone. This is made from Mourverdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise. It's fruit sweet and slightly nutty to the taste with a deep earthy, savoury vinosity. Rose hips, dried herbs and black liquorice add to the aesthetics and underlying acidity imparts brightness to the long and very dry finish. The evaluation is over and a big mouthful brings out the chocolate, vanilla, cherry, peppery spice and florals in spades and the moderate touch of cedary oak is mellow.  A complex wine - it gets richer and richer with time and the pleasing and sensuous aftertaste lasts for ages. 

According to the bottle it has been "Produced And Bottled By Intuition and Blind Luck". I think Steve Edmunds winemaking skill may have had something to do with it too. The wine was released in 2005, alcohol clocks in at 13.8% alcohol and the bottle sports a natural cork closure. The name is in reference to the fossilised marine remains in the Cretaceous era limestone soils in which the vines grow. Click here to transfer to the ESJ website to read more.

Hamburgers was the food of choice to accompany the wine. It was either that or ribs, but the burgers got the nod when the butcher had no ribs to be found.  A gift worth saving to open when the time was right. That was tonight. Thank you my American friends.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Jul 4th 2009

Kiwi wine winners overseas and other news tipples

The San Francisco International Wine Competition has been judged for another year and New Zealand figures strongly with twelve wines winning 'double gold' awards including two 'Best of' Awards.

Best Sauvignon Blanc was awarded to Ra Nui Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 while Best Fortified went to Mazuran's Vineyards 1951 Vintage Port from Henderson, in Auckland - a true testimony to the late George Mazuran, a New Zealand wine industry lobbyist, who was the winemaker of this outstanding wine.

Other double gold medal winners were

Ara Pathway Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Brancott Vineyards Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Hunter's Wines Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Kaimira Estate Nelson Riesling 2008
Mazuran's Vineyards 1950 Vintage Port
Mazuran's Vineyards 1960 Old Tawny Port
Mazuran's Vineyards 1980 Vintage Port
Saint Clair Family Pioneer Block 9 Marlborough Riesling 2007
Waipara Springs Reserve Dry Waipara Riesling 2008
Wild Rock Elevation Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Another 25 New Zealand wines were awarded single gold medals while Mazuran's was acclaimed Best New Zealand producer. This is a large competition that attracts approximately 10,000 entries. Results are available from

In London, the International Wine Challenge had a busy time awarding New Zealand wines with best of region or best of variety accolades, but the two wines also won International Trophies.  Kennedy Point Waiheke Island Syrah 2007 was awarded International Syrah trophy while also winning Best New Zealand Red trophy.  Clifford Bay Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 won the International Sauvignon Blanc Trophy and Best New Zealand White Wine Trophy.

Fourteen red wines and six white wines won gold. In the following list, * depicts a trophy.
   Kennedy Point Waiheke Syrah 2007 ***
   Mission Estate Reserve Hawke's Bay Syrah 2007 *
   Gladstone Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2007 *
   Saint Clair Pioneer Block 15 Strip Block Pinot Noir 2007 *
   Hinton Estate Vineyard Barrel Central Otago Selection 2007 *
   Bridge Pa Louis Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006
   Bridge Pa Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007
   The Hay Paddock Harvest Man Waiheke Syrah 2007
   Mission Estate Jewelstone Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007
   Peregrine Otago Pinot Noir 2007
   Domain Road Otago Pinot Noir 2007
   Sandihurst Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
   Waipara West Waipara Pinot Noir 2006
   CJ Pask Declaration Hawkes Bay Merlot 2005
   Clifford Bay Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ***
   Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2007 *
   Seifried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Ice Wine 2008
   Thornbury Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 2008
   Century Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
   Nautilus Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008

It's exciting to see how Syrah is faring with six golds in the lineup. All the results can be found at

At the Boutique Wine Awards in Sydney, Blind River Pinot Noir 2007 from Marlborough took out the top placing. As well as the Dan Murphy Trophy they are assured of a 100 case order and a premium wine listing with the Dan Murphy retail chain.  This competition with over 1100 entries awarded a meagre 17 gold medals. New Zealand won just two gold medals with the Mystery Creek Syrah 2008 the other New Zealand golden wine.

New Zealand wine companies made up only 12 percent of the entries but won 30 percent of the awards. 1100 wines were entered in the competition. As well as the Blind River Pinot Noir 2007, four other New Zealand wines, all silver medal winners and all from Marlborough, won 'top of class' for the respective classes they were entered in. They they were -
      No. 1 Family Estate No. 1 Cuvée
      Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2008
      Johanneshof Gewurztraminer 2008
      Johanneshof Late Harvest Riesling 2007
Check out

Back at home Pernod Ricard met with Gisborne Winegrowers on Thursday night and confirmed they are going to cut their Chardonnay intake by 30 per cent. The Gisborne Herald reports: "A meeting with Pernod Ricard management this week offered no silver lining for sacked Gisborne grape growers. Last month Pernod Ricard announced they would dramatically cut the amount of wine, particularly chardonnay, sourced for Lindauer from Gisborne, to help correct an oversupply issue in the wine industry. It is understood they will reduce their local contracts from 14,000 tonnes a year to 10,000 tonnes. Gisborne growers harvested 24,000 tonnes from the 08/09 vintage.Read more ....

Jancis Robinson writes that New Zealand wine has come of age in this weekend's London Financial Times - pity the Pernod Ricard people didn't see this before they made their decision. Jancis writes: "What is so encouraging about New Zealand wine is that it is no longer a one trick pony. Winemaking is better than it ever has been, at a range of price levels and in a wide range of styles. Take Chardonnay. For years, with the exception of such long-standing over-performers as Kumeu River of Auckland and Neudorf of Nelson, it seemed as though Kiwi winemakers virtually ignored their second most important grape variety, but now there seems to be a real step up in the quality of New Zealand Chardonnay in general.Read more ....

Excise tax on alcohol rose by 2.8 percent on July 1st. While this may mean a rise in beer and spirits prices, wine drinkers will still be finding plenty of bargains with recession and competition basically keeping prices the same or even going down.

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

Recent Wednesday Highlights and more on the recent Waiheke Expo

Three weeks of Wednesday tastings to catch up on and some rather special wines have been tasted.  Most recently it was Bordeaux, Burgundian and Italian varieties - it was stressed not wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. However there was one chardonnay that I momentarily thought could have been from the big White B.  It was Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2006 ($39.99) from right here in Auckland and the closest wine producer to my home.  This light gold coloured wine had a complex and very appealing bouquet that suggested lemony leesy scents with some wild yeast funk.  Obvious malolactic fermentation imparts a delicate creamy character to the nutty, leesy flavours with gorgeous fruit - like sucking on a fleshy peach stone - and hints of pineapple well integrated with spicy French oak and a suggestion of honey.

The previous week was Classic Wines from the Regions - or was it Wines from Classic Regions? Possibly a bit of both. Two outstanding wines in this line-up. One was Hauth Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2005 ($41.99) from the Mosel, Germany - such an atypical vintage but one that produced some incredible wines, like this one. Tantalising mandarin and honeysuckle aromas are followed by deliciously juicy flavours with a gentle nectar-like sweetness to balance the taut focussed clean acidity and a finish that goes on and on.   Almost hedonsistic and only 7.5% alcohol. The other wine was also sweet and is indeed an Australian classic. The deep gold coloured De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2006 ($39.99) is simply luscious and full of orange and lime marmalade, apricot, honey and beeswax with integrated oak adding complexity.

Then the week before that was last Chance before the Wine Options, which included a  bunch of reds that should help us distinguish between Australian Cabernet and Australian Shiraz although the two wines made by Mamre Brook could have gone either way.  My two standout wines both came from the Bannockburn subregion of Central Otago. Carrick Josephine Central Otago Riesling 2007 ($27.99) is a taut, acid-driven style with hardly enough alcohol to notice - the aromas are floral and citrussy the delicate flavours are reminiscent of juicy apple and mandarin.  Bannock Brae Goldfields Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 ($22.99) is a bright and juicy value-packed second label.  Woodsmoke, bitter cherry aromas and spicy oak, ripe cherry and bittersweet red fruit flavours float over a thick, dense, meaty backbone with a chocolatey richness and classic Central Otago dried herb.

Click on the underlined links above to read the full reviews.

Last month the Waiheke Winegrowers came to town and I filed a report a few days later. Now there is a comprehensive article and complete summary of all the wines at the tasting - 84 in total - that's about 50 more than I attempted to taste.

WAIHEKE WINEGROWERS EXPO 2009 – HOW DO THE WAIHEKE ISLAND WINES MEASURE UP ? is written by Geoff Kelly. Obviously hours of work and plenty of thought has gone into this profound article and it is definitely worth the read. Be sure to note his Methodology as it explains why his tasting notes are so comprehensive. And the quality of Waiheke is summed up well in his conclusions.  Click here to be cybertransported to Geoff Kelly's website.

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

Maximus at Minimus

Just had to buy this wine in the supermarket the other day. Neil saw the stack and the sign.  "Was $38.99, now $11.99" Yes, true. The wine is Maximus Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Malbec 2006 produced by Mahurangi River Winery in Matakana Wine Country north of Auckland.

maximus06.jpg (20375 bytes)"That's cheap," said Neil. But I knew the reason why. Last Year, Mahurangi River Winery, formerly Mahurangi Wines, was sold. Now the stock is being flicked off in a post sale winery clearout.  It's an 'end of line' special.

I had tasted Maximus one time before at The Vintry in Matakana - a surprisingly smooth and mellow red, from memory. Possibly the previous vintage though.

"Let's give this one a go - we'll take it around to dinner for my sister's birthday." Not that we're cheapskates, mind you. Another couple of reasons compelled me to buy it. The people who owned Mahurangi River at the time this wine was made have loose family connections - that connection being my cousin's daughter married the vineyard owner's son. I met the then vineyard owners, the Vujnovich's, once at a family get-together. The vineyard owners contracted Michelle and Petar Vuletich to make the wine. While the winemakers are most famous as owners of Antipodean Farm - the label of the most expensive-ever Matakana red - Michelle and my sister went to primary school together.

The bottle we opened had some bricking to the garnet hue. Bit of a classic 'New Zealand pong' to the bouquet - classic as it used to be in all the reds once upon a time. Yet still a complex mellow cedary scent with fragrant dried herbs and cherry. Mellow, earthy and savoury to the taste with denseness to the structure, underlying acidity, wild blackberry and cigar box on the finish and after a while a hint of chocolate too. A lighter style in the realm of New Zealand fuller bodied blended reds and just 11.5% alcohol as well.

We pulled the natural cork while dinner was cooking and accompanied it with natural oat crackers, Kikorangi creamy blue and a cherry fruit paste. It didn't take long for the four of us to polish the nibbles and wine off. It was perfect in that situation. I rated it four stars and Neil called in at the supermarket (Pack 'n Save) on the way from work last night to buy another two.

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