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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: September 2009
Sep 30th: 2007 vintage even better than anyone thought?
Sep 29th: Another heads up for 2007
Sep 28th: Who or what is Ngaruroro?
Sep 26th: Martinborough Pinot Noirs excel
Sep 22nd: Gorgeous Chardonnays
Sep 20th: A Night to Celebrate
Sep 17th & Sep 19th: Fifty Four wines from Nga Waka
Sep 14th: A Big Red Turkish Delight
Sep 11th: Chocolate and Bubbly Wine
Sep 8th: Chocolate Cameo Cremes
Sep 7th: Short and sweet
Sep 6th: Chardonnay, Shiraz and Riesling
Sep 5th: Who are Dhall & Nash? And what is Cristom?
Sep 3rd: Unison Mini Vertical
Sep 2nd: Bubbly Sauvignon Surprise
Older Entries

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

2007 vintage even better than anyone thought?

A 2007 red wine from Hawkes Bay better than the best of the best?  Absolutely, according to a press release from Craggy Range.

It was a similar tasting to one held in London at the beginning of the year where six reds from the Gimblett Gravels region in Hawkes Bay were tasted blind against some heavyweight names from Bordeaux, only this time the tasting took place in San Francisco.

Six Gimblett Gravels reds, six Bordeaux reds - and the CR team are justifiably proud that the 2007 Craggy Range 'Sophia' (Merlot / Cabernet Franc) was placed first in the tasting, ahead of the likes of Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Pavie and Château L'Evangile. The tasting was done ‘double blind’ and all twelve wines were from similar vintages (2005 - 2007).

Well, some of us know just how good these 2007 wines are, but now they are on the international stage and coming up with results like this, more people are finding out.

The wines in the tasting - and the 'group ranking' by the tasters including three Master Sommeliers, one Master of Wine, two prominent retailers including Chuck Haywood from San Francisco's Jug Shop and Harvey Steiman and Mary Ann Worobiec from The Wine Spectator - were

Craggy Range Sophia 2007 (US$50):; group rank: 1
Church Road Tom 2005 (US$85): group rank: 2
Sacred Hill Helmsman 2007 (US$45): group rank: 3 (tie)
Château L’Evangile Pomerol 2005 (US$250):; group rank: 3 (tie)
Blake Family Vineyard Redd Gravels 2006 (US$54):; group rank: 5
Craggy Range Sophia 2005 (US$50): group rank: 6
Château Pavie St-Emilion 2006 (US$200):; group rank: 7
Château Pontet-Canet 2005 (US$190):; group rank: 8
Vieux-Château-Certan Pomerol 2006 (US$175):; group rank: 9
Château Rauzan-Ségla Pauillac 2005 (US$140):; group rank: 10
Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 2006 (US$695): group rank: 11
Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2006 (US$30):; group rank: 12

Harvey Steiman, writing on his Wine Spectator blog (subscription required) gives an overview of the tasting and notes on all the wines.  He rated the star performing Sacred Hill Helmsman 2007, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, his No. 1 pick. You can now read his report on the Sacred Hill website.

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

Another heads up for 2007

One thing that was patently clear from the results of the NZ International Wine show - was the quality of the New Zealand reds from the 2007 vintage.

I mentioned the Pinot Noirs on my blog a few days ago - of the 19 gold medal winners, 12 were from 2007 and just 7 from 2008. Easy to see why when you look and taste the wines - the 2007's are richer, deeper denser. And some of the 2007 Pinot Noirs were repeat gold medal winners - Domain Road, Wild Earth and Wooing Tree from Central Otago and Vidal Marlborough in particular.

It's the same with the Hawkes Bay reds blended from Merlot and Cabernet. Church Road Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007, Church Road Cuve Series Merlot 2007, Frizzel Merlot 2007 and Ngatarawa Glazebrook Merlot 2007 all from Hawkes Bay - all magnificent reds from the 2007 vintage..

This week's Wine of the Week is also a 2007 Hawkes Bay red but it was not a wine show winner. It's a wine from a company that does not enter competitions in New Zealand. The wine is a gorgeous, value-packed and very drinkable red from the excellent 2007 vintage - it is Te Mata Woodthorpe Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 - click here to read the review.

It's been discussed on wine forums how good the vintage has been - is it as good as 1998 when the Hawkes Bay reds delivered spectacular value for the price? Now some of us are getting together on the Sunday of Labour Weekend for an 'offline' to check out just how those fabulous 1998 Hawkes Bay reds are holding up. If you are remotely interested in attending, email me and I'll tell you how you can become involved.

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

Who or what is Ngaruroro?

Neil opened a wine the other night, served blind of course, but easy to pick as Syrah so distinctive was the dried rose and crushed pepper scent. It was a lovely wine with a deep dark colour, not vivid as they are when young, but still shiny in appearance and opaque when held over a white background. It tasted smooth and silky with oak and tannins in harmony. There was an earthy depth to the savoury, peppery flavour with fruit sweetness brimming up on the finish and creaminess to the smooth-textured aftertaste. A New Zealand wine but one of the most Rhone-like look-alikes I've tasted in a while.

"How old do you think?"
"Oh, I don't know, about 2002"
"Not quite right."

It was from 2003 - a very low cropping vintage in Hawkes Bay because of the spring frosts - but the resulting wines were concentrated  - a good year for the later flowering Cabernet but not a good year for Merlot. Now it, it turns out, a good year for cellaring Syrah, although 2002 and 2004 are more heralded.

"Well, give me some options on producer."
"I cant really, as it would be too obvious," he replied.
"Try me."
"Uh, ok. Um, is is Trinity Hill, CJ Pask or Ngaruroro?"

I had to go for the last option - apart from the fact it didn't taste like Trinity Hill or CJ Pask.  It was so left field I knew Neil would not have pulled that name from the air. It would have had to come from the bottle.

The wine was Ngaruroro Rockhill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2003, a wine I had never tasted before.

It was entered in the Easter Show in 2005 and was one of the bottles Neil (who stewarded at the Show) grabbed for the case of wine he was allowed to take home.

Bob Campbell MW described this as "tough and tannic" in 2005 but this description does not fit the wine four years later. A beautiful drop and perfect with a Porterhouse Blue. This wine, with 13% alcohol and a cork closure, was definitely worth Neil's grabbing and cellaring.

I can't find out much Ngaruroro Estate apart from the Maori origins of the name that is also a river in Hawkes Bay, and that the grapes came from the Maraekakaho region of Hawkes Bay.


Warren Gibson (owner of Bilanicia and winemaker at Trinity Hill), replies: The fruit was made from Hillside and terrace grown Syrah from a beautiful property in Maraekakaho. I helped with the winemaking here at Trinity Hill for a number of years until the owners, very good friends sold and moved up North. The vines were very young at this stage and had increasing potential in a cool climate Rhone- like style. Of course hillside sites can be very hard work and I believe the new owners gave up soon after they purchased and pulled the vines out, a shame.
Interesting reading your thoughts though. Another example of us expecting too much from very young wine and the benefits of bottle age for good raw material.

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

Martinborough Pinot Noirs excel

When one talks about Martinborough and Pinot Noir in the same breath, what do they really mean?  Do they mean Martinborough the town, which gives its names to the wine area in the Wairarapa, or do they mean Martinborough Vineyards?  It's confusing at times, for sure.  Well, In the context of the heading, I mean both.   Both Martinborough the region and Martinborough Vineyards, the wine producer.

First the heads up for Martinborough Vineyards, one of the first four vineyards to be established in Martinborough the town.  A couple of weeks ago their flagship Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007 took out the Champion Pinot Noir at the invitation only Tri Nations competition that was held in Australia. 

Then last week the Burnt Spur Martinborough Pinot Noir 2007, made by Martinborough Vineyards, was named as Champion Pinot Noir at the New Zealand International Wine Show.  In the context of the 18 gold medal winning Pinot Noirs eligible for the trophy, this had just that little bit extra depth of savouriness and earthy complexity.  These are my notes: - Deep ruby with flashes of purple, almost opaque. Savoury aromas, earthy and gently smoky with bittersweet red fruits that carry through to the lightly spicy and silky textured palate with flavours that are finely textured, savoury and long and juicy sweet fruit just adding that extra flourish to the lasting finish.

But it was the back to back win at the NZ International Wine Show for Martinborough Vineyards that had a lot of people talking, as last year it was their Te Tera Martinborough Pinot Noir that took out the same Trophy amongst some of the same illustrious company  (Vidal Marlborough, Wild Earth Central Otago, Domain Road Otago all repeat winners from last year).  

As you can understand, Martinborough Vineyards are justifiably quite proud of the three trophy wins with their three 2007 Pinot Noirs.

In fact it was incredible - or perhaps not incredible - how many 2007 Pinots came through with gold at the NZ International this year - 12 from 2007 and just 7 from 2008.  Easy to see why when you look and taste the wines - the 2007's are richer, deeper denser.

Now more heads up for Martinborough, the region.  It was the third year in a row that a Martinborough region wine has taken out the NZIWS Champion Pinot Noir, the winner in 2007 being Julicher Pinot Noir 2006.

But lastly, perhaps it will be Martinborough that excels again in 2008 because I've just tasted the Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 - and it's head and shoulders above every other 2008 I've tasted so far.  I had to take a double take at the label to ensure it was, yes, from the 'lighter' vintage.  The colour is dark, the texture is smooth and silky, it has depth, it has savouriness, it has earth, it has gaminess, it has that generous fruit and it has that "sex on the forest floor" seductiveness.  It was the top wine for me at the Eurowine trade tasting during the week. It was simply outstanding. 

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

Gorgeous Chardonnays

I loved the West Brook Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2007 that was acclaimed Champion Wine of the Show at NZIWS awards on Saturday night - and I've now written it up as this week's Wine of the Week, but there are another couple of gorgeous Chardonnays that demand attention. 

One is the winner's stablemate - West Brook Blue Ridge Chardonnay 2007 ($22), made from 100% Marlborough fruit.  Rich, ripe and rounded with a mealy complexity, this is savoury in nature with tempting barrel-ferment scents melding with  nuts, fig and a hint of lemon and a harmonious silky texture with fruit brimming from behind the savoury French oak flavours.

The Cypress Terraces Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2008 ($32) also deserves special mention because I loved it when I tasted it at the wine show, and again at last week's gold medal tasting.  It has gorgeous creamy oak and butterscotch aromas and smooth, creamy textured flavours of butterscotch, savoury oak, spice, peaches and cream with a lovely harmony throughout and a punchy vibrancy to the juicy finish. Yum.  Then on Saturday night, at the awards dinner, this was on our table and was just so right for the occasion - in fact I preferred this with my fillet steak than all of the reds on our table. Cypress Terraces is a new label but the names behind it have a long winemaking heritage  - the Lawson family, original owners of Te Awa, and Rod McDonald, winemaker.

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

A Night to Celebrate

I could have danced all night last night, or was it the early hours of this morning?  My titanium knees just kept going and going even after the rest of the body started protesting.  Shane Cortese and his Rock 'n Roll Band played music that made you want to get up on the floor and let loose and I became a dancing queen, winning a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne for my efforts.  Thanks, Shane, for picking me.  I haven't able to dance like this for years so the fact you thought I was the best dancer on the floor (albeit for that one particular 'competition' song) was unbelievable.

westbrookwinners.jpg (62901 bytes)It wasn't the only unbelievable happening at New Zealand International Wine Show awards dinner last night because no-one, absolutely no-one, least of all the West Brook contingent, expected the West Brook Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2007 to take out not only Champion Chardonnay and Champion Commercial White Wine (for best white retailing for $20 or less) but also Champion Wine of the Show.  This is the first time in the five years that the New Zealand International Wine Show has been running, that one wine has walked away with a maximum three Trophies. Anthony and Susan Ivicevich and James Rowan and the rest of the team at West Brook in Waimauku just north of Auckland are going to be buzzing for months.  In the image, Anthony, left, and James, right, are with John Manley of Nissan NZ, who presented the Champion Wine of the Show trophy.

What made this Chardonnay so special?  I reckon it was the 32% Auckland fruit in the Marlborough-Auckland blend that added the x-factor that made it stand out amongst the others.  According to competition convenor Kingsley Wood, the competition wasn't even close.  In fact he was so shocked at the result, he had Chief Judge Bob Campbell MW and his back room gold medal wine coordinator, Graham Watson, double check and triple check the adjudications.

A night of celebration with 156 gold medals presented and then the trophies, including the Sir George Fistonich Medal for a living legend of New Zealand Wine being awarded to writer Michael Cooper.  After that, the dancing.

All of the trophy winners can be found on the New Zealand International Wine Show website trophy page - they are my descriptions, by the way.

I presented a Trophy too. The Trophy for Champion Other White Varieties was won by Peter Lehmann 'Margaret' Barossa Valley Semillon 2004 - a follow-on to the 2003 that took out this award last year. This gorgeous 2004 vintage Semillon has a light citrine hue.  It's a deep, dry wine with apricot marmalade, delicate spices and honey on the nose and bright acidity in the palate yet also a softness that has accrued with age. Lemon, dried mango, beeswax and honey all combine for a delicious mouthfilling treat that has an impression of sweetness on the finish. Beautiful now but will continue to develop for years.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Sep 17th & Sep 19th 2009

Fifty Four wines from Nga Waka

Roger Parkinson from Nga Waka Vineyard swung into town the other day with almost every wine he had ever made since the vineyard he and family established in 1988, started production. Fifteen Sauvignon Blancs from 1993 to 2008 (excluding 2006 as not made); thirteen Rieslings from 1993 to 2005 inclusive; twelve Chardonnays from 1994 to 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008; six "Home Block" Chardonnays from 2002 - 2007 inclusive and eight Pinot Noir from 1998 - 2003 plus the 2006 and 2007.

What a line-up - 54 wines in total.

Nga Waka lineup

There were highlight and lowlights - the highlights some exquisite wine, the lowlight being one particular wine where the first bottle was corked and the second oxidised to the point of being undrinkable. Wines were tasted oldest to youngest.

Of particular note were the older Sauvignon Blancs - 1993 in particular delivering everything I expect from a lovely older SB - aged notes with honeyed bean, pea and mellow apricot flavours, underlying acidity (still), richness and weight. The 1994 had become rich and creamy with honey and melon and underlying mandarin-like acidity, then the 1996 - honey, a hint of that peasy character, dominant lemon-rich fruit, fullness of finish - creamy, rounded textural. You would be forgiven for mistaking it as a beautiful aged Riesling. The 2000 was a classic moderate-age SB - a fatter wine with asparagus, pea, grass and citrus over a flinty backbone. The flinty character was apparent in all the nougties wines. As I progressed from the 2001 to the 2008 the youthfulness became more apparent with youthful freshness a key factor from the 2003 to the 2008. Incidentally it was the 2003 that was the first to go under screwcap.

Then the Rieslings. Having tasted a vertical back in 2002, the wines then tasted the 1993 to the 2001 pre-release sample; this was the line-up I was most looking forward to.

Reviews to follow .....  but one of these is this week's Wine of the Week - click here to read that review..

Sep 19th - I'm back at the keyboard to hark on about the Rieslings.  

In the vertical tasting I was disappointed to initially find wines that were not at their best and bottle stink was a problem too once the bottle stink wore off, and the slightly oxidised wines pushed to one side, the others showed their incredible aging potential.

Favourites from the earlier vintages were the 1996, which coincidentally is the only wine in the lineup that was not fermented to dryness due to the yeast protesting during the fermentation phase. This deep gold coloured wine is a star.  The 1995, from a cool year, is still imbued with florals.  It smells of honeycomb, yet it is dry to the taste with a mellow character from bottle age and a zesty richness coming through, while underlying acidity leaves a tingling bright aftertaste.

While the 2003 was my favourite, the 2004 will be one to watch.  It's clean and fresh with sweet citrus acidity, a long rich flavour and great persistence.


A mixed bunch of wines with the 1995 and 1996 my favourite of the older wines -must be something about those years.  The 1995 has an incredible light lemon hue for its age - it looks good, smells good and tastes good in a youthful Burgundian style with nut, fig and nougat and a touch of sizzled butter - this bottle indicates it has years to go.  The 1996 has a light gold hue and is rich and nutty, dry and intense and drinking beautifully now - it's on the top of the plateau so best to get to it before its downhill slide. The 2001 is light lemon gold with a hint of lime to the hue - it's clean, rich, nutty and savoury with a fine texture.  The 2005 showed a sweet cashew aromas and spicy barrel ferment flavours with butterscotch on the finish while the 2006 has a lightly buttery, nutty aromas and clean, rich, fresh flavours with spicy oak and a creamy texture.

In summary the 1995 was the standout and the 2001 very similar in style, while the 2004 was richest of them all and the 2005, with its fine nutty character, just needs a little more time.

The Home Block Chardonnays all showed extra depth and complexity -hard to fault any and tasting them in a line-up by vintage year showed how the wines evolve.   That 2002 especially, with 7 years of age - concentrated, nutty, spicy with a lovely veneer of smoky oak, jewelled melon - just drinking so beautifully now. At the other end the 2007 is very drying, almost austere - the new oak and the 100% malolactic fermentation need time to integrate. It's a nutty wine - cashews, milled almonds and hazels - great potential for sure.

2002 v 2007Lastly the Pinot Noirs - and lined up on the table they showed a great variation in depth of colour and density.  1998 was a hot year and this produced a big, rich, savoury wine but despite the bottle age it is grippy and still very tight.  2001 is good - a rich meaty style, savoury and deep, earthy and gamey with a silky texture and a flourish of spice. 2002 is like strawberry juice in appearance but profoundly savoury with a gorgeous silky texture and deep flavours of smoky bacon, earth and spice. "Everyone hated the vintage, said Roger, but the wine has evolved incredibly - it's an ugly duckling turned into a swan. 2006 was the first to have Dijon clones as part of the make-up. Now we have deeply coloured wines that are almost opaque and the wines have richness and texture.  The 2007, especially is opulent in the line-up - just delicious actually.

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

A Big Red Turkish Delight

One of the great things about an 'International' wine show is getting to try some international wines that one could quite possibly get no other chance to taste and one that made it's way to the gold medal room was a definite rarity. It was Kayra Vintage Shiraz with a touch of Petit Verdot 2007 - Collectible Series # 2

You would be forgiven for thinking this wine comes from Australia or even from the USA because it big, bold, rich and sumptuous - it's a blockbuster in every respect. But this wine hails from Turkey - yes, Turkey!

kayra vintageIt's deep dark red in colour, almost black, and impenetrably opaque. On the nose it throws out sumptuous aromas of juicy red berries and blackberries, cake spices and earthy but creamy American oak. The flavours - the intense berry flavours, that lift of spice, that power and depth. Is it the Petit Verdot that adds the intrigue, that adds the complexity, that has you scratching your head? There's chocolate strawberries and almost Turkish Delight flavours - well it is a Turkish 'delight' in every way.

I was particularly impressed.

According to the Karya website, "Kayra wines are being produced from the grapes grown in the most outstanding vineyard regions of Anatolia and processed at the Elazig and Sarköy wine production facilities located within the same regions".   The wine has 14% alcohol, a cork closure and price is unknown.

If you are heading to the "Pick the Trophies" tasting on Wednesday or the Wine Awards Dinner on Saturday (see for details) - be sure to get a taste of this rarity.  It may be your only chance.   All of the medal results are now on the NZIWS website too.

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

Chocolate and Bubbly Wine

Neil came home on Wednesday night with a packet of Cameo Creme biscuits. I came home with Champagne. Well, what a delicious combination those chocolate Cameo Creme biscuits and Champagne turned out to be.

He bought the biscuits to see just how much they had deteriorated as discussed in the previous blog entry. Yes, the chocolate biscuits had nicks out of them all over the place and the cream filling was uneven in its delivery and didn't cover all of the biscuit, like it really should have, but the chocolate biscuits themselves didn't taste *too* bad - crisp and biscuity but not as dark in colour and chocolatey-rich as I remember.

We had Champagne because I had bought some of the leftovers from the New Zealand International Wine Show.

One of the good things about working at the New Zealand International Wine Show, as every one of the stewards will tell you, is the left over wine - not the unopened bottles, but the opened bottles. At the end of each day, the stewards have the chance to take home as many of the opened bottles as they can carry.

Working in the gold medal room, where all the gold medals wines were whisked away to, for writing of descriptions and other things, I got to take home some of the those wines at the end of the Show. And being an 'international' wine show, some of those gold medal wines were Champagne. Perhaps it was sacrilege, but I made a blend of some vintage and NV Champagne* that I particularly liked (from the same producer), to fill up the bottle. However the wine did protest on the way home when the cork popped out and the Champagne left a calling card in the trunk of the car.

This was a gorgeous blend - rich, deep, nutty, yeasty and savoury - perfect with those dry chocolate biscuits. The sublte sweetness of the chocolate biscuits took the edge of the dryness of the wine. I thought how perfect Champagne might be for a chocolatey desert that wasn't too sweet.

I also had a sparkling Australian Shiraz**, but that was a disaster match with the Cameo Creme biscuits - the wine in this case was too rich and sweet. This rich, full bodied, rich-fruited wine embellished with spices and creamy oak, was so much better with RJ's Liquorice Choc Logs - milk chocolate covered in black liquorice.

So chocolate fans, that's a couple of wine and chocolate matches for you to try.

*The Champagne was a blend of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV and Charles Heidsieck Vintage Reserve 2000.
** The red was Hardy's Oomo Sparkling Shiraz 2004.

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

Chocolate Cameo Cremes

As I was piling through a flight of gold medal winning Shirazes today at the New Zealand International Wine Show, writing descriptions for the little booklet that's coming out at the Awards Dinner on September 19th, Cameo Creme biscuits came to mind with several of the wines. 

cameo cremes Cameo Cremes are chocolate biscuits - actually two chocolate biscuits held together by a creamy filling that is the centre.  I have to admit I haven't eaten any for yonks but the memory of what I think Cameo Cremes taste like, lingers strongly in my mind and sometimes, most notably with Australian Shirazes, the flavour I taste in the wine is a trigger to this memory. 

But it seems that Cameo Cremes are not what they used to be.  It was Paul Henry on TV1's breakfast program on Monday morning that highlighted this fact to me. His guest was Warwick Johnston, historian of Griffins, the iconic Kiwi biscuit-making company.

Henry lamented about the change of the biscuity flavour and the unevenness of the once luscious creamy filling.  You could see it on the packet he opened as an example - some pairs of chocolate biscuits seemed to held together by hardly any filling at all.   "Why the deterioration?" he asked.

The Cameo Creme expert said they were still made to exactly the same recipe as they always had been, but the location of the factories and the cooking method had changed.   Check it out on TVNZ - this video link was the correct one at the time of writing.

You wouldn't think the that difference between electric and gas ovens could make such a vast difference to the taste. I would wager it also has something to do with the quality of the raw ingredients - the chocolate itself being a good example.  Anyone who cooks and can't find cocoa the way it used to be, would know.

So from now on my tasting notes for wines where the Cameo Creme memory is triggered will now state "'old fashioned chocolate Cameo Cremes", in reference to that long held memory.

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

Short and Sweet

It's a busy week this week so short sharp vibes are in order. Today I tasted almost 60 Gewurztraminers in the judging of the New Zealand International Wine Show.  I always approach this class with excitement and anticipation and I always walk away with disappointment.  Well I have the notes of the wines I liked but results don't get released until September 14th - another  7 days away, so best not to say anything more until then.

My judging stint at the three day show is over even though there are two more days of judging to go.  I am blessed with the task of writing the descriptions of all the gold medal winning wines for a little booklet that the show organisers are putting out. I have to restrict my typical ramblings to about 17 words per wine and that takes a lot of thought and discipline. There were 166 gold medal wines last year.  How many will there be this year? Fewer, I would think, as entries are down though still exceed 2000 for the 4th consecutive year.

Punters in Auckland get a chance to taste all the gold medal wines at the "Pick the Trophies" tasting at the Centra Hotel in Auckland's CBD on Thursday September 17th from 6pm to 9pm. Everyone who picks four of the trophies that will be awarded the following Saturday is in with a chance to win $1000, drawn on the night.   Unfortunately for me I am not allowed to participate.  Check it out

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

Chardonnay, Shiraz and Riesling

Chardonnay and Shiraz featured at Wednesday's tasting - six of each. Favourites in the Chard category were the two Villa Maria Reserves - one from Marlborough (2006) and one from Gisborne (2007) - the latter winnng Champion wine at the recent Bragato awards and also the runner-up earlier in the year at the International Chardonnay Challenge - the best kiwi wine as an Aussie was the winner that day. Just don't serve the wines too chilled.

In the Shirazes I was actually quite taken with the 2005 Dead Letter Office Shiraz from Henry's Drive Drive in South Australia - I like the mellowness that had been introduced with a little bit of age.  Most of the people at at the tasting fell for the overly alcoholic Two Hands Angels Share McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 - it's so thick it's like drinking berry jam thinned with alcohol, but it was the second to last wine of the evening - I wonder what it would have been like if it was the first wine tasted. That's the beauty of wine though, what some like, other's don't and vice versa.
Click here for the Chardonnay and Shiraz reviews

Lastly Riesling - two Rieslings in fact, featuring in this weeks Wine of the Week - the biodynamically farmed and naturally fermented  Rippon Riesling 2008 from Lake Wanaka in Central Otago is the star.  Click here to read the review.

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

Who are Dhall & Nash? And what is Cristom?

So who are Dhall & Nash? It's one of the questions I asked the dashing young Brandon NashBrandon at D & N's first ever trade showing in Auckland. Brandon is a Canadian who followed his sweetheart home to New Zealand 10 years ago and although it took him some time to pop the question, he's now actually engaged to her.  He comes from a wine loving family and having decided New Zealand was a nice place to live, took the opportunity to pursue a vinous career by studying viticulture at EIT in Hawkes Bay. There he met fellow student Puneet Dhall, who grew up in the UK - he looks Indian but speaks like a pom. Although Puneet's studies were more aligned to winemaking, the two lads forged a firm friendship that continued during their work experience - Puneet at Sacred Hill and Brandon at Craggy Range. Puneet went home to England to work in the fine wine sector while Brandon progressed from Craggy's vineyard to Craggy's cellar door.

Many a time when the two lads shared a bottle together they lamented how difficult it was to source the international wines they liked to drink. So when Puneet returned to New Zealand they started in business together. Their mandate was to import wines at the high end, for a select group of customers, with international producers they had formed some relationship with. Like Cristom in Oregon where a friend of Brandon's worked and through the kiwi winemaker they knew who worked at HDV (Hyde and de Villaine) in the Napa. Similarly with the ad Hoc range from the Margaret River. The relationships with the French wineries were formed after winery visits.

Since that beginning only two years ago, Dhall & Nash has evolved into an agency and distribution company at the middle to upper end of the market and New Zealand brands are now included. They sell mostly to restaurant clients, a little to fine wine stores and also directly to the consumer - especially at the high end because that's how it all started. But they will not make the mistake that other 'direct to consumer' importers and winery agencies have made - they will not undercut the retailer, nor the winery owner, with direct consumer sales.

There were many outstanding white wines that I tried from the international portfolio including Le Lys Vouvray 2007, Duc de Tarente Sancerre 2006, Domaine Pierre Andre Chablis 1er 2005, Ad Hoc Hen and Chickens Chardonnay 2008, Ad Hoc Riesling 2008, HdV de la Guerra Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 and HdV Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2006.

Some of the whites surprised me. Domaine Pierre Andre's Bourgnone Blanc 2007 is a modern style yet reminded me of many Burg look-a-likes from New Zealand.

HdV Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 reminded me of a top end Marlborough chardie - big oak, lots of citrus, a creamy texture and a powerful presence with a long finish and a touch of caramel as the flavours linger.

Fontenil Blanc 2007 from Entre deux Mers in Bordeaux is a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend and it tasted like it too - bright and varietally expressive - summer hay, a touch of oiliness, orange blossom finish and SB's pungency kicking in powerfully at the end.

cristomI didn't take the opportunity to try the French reds (if only I had more time) but I did try the Oregon pinots, and the most outstanding Pinot Noir in the room (sorry kiwis) was Cristom Ecola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006. From the deep, rich complex aromas to the bright yet earthy flavours with black, red and purple fruit, hints of anise and integrated smoky oak, this is fantastic pinot. It is a wine of textural beauty with both power and elegance. So the answer to '"What is Cristom", it's an Oregon winery that you should endeavour to try the wines of at least once in your life,

Dhall & Nash look like they definitely have a bright future ahead of them.   New Zealand agencies include Lowburn Ferry and Mt Rosa from Central Otago, Bushmere from Gisborne, Lime Rock and Unison from Hawkes Bay, Kina Beach from Nelson, Sherwood Estate from Waipara, Gillman from Matakana and Gladstone from Wairarapa. They'll also sell fine wines from your own cellar on your behalf too. Check them out

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

Unison Mini vertical

At a trade showing of the wines of new fine wine agency Dhall & Nash, it was a 'mini vertical' of three older wines from Hawkes Bay producer Unison that had pride of place in one of the rooms. There were three vintages to taste and they all had been decanted for at least four hours  (before I got to them).  I tasted from oldest to youngest, although the guy next to me said I should have gone youngest to oldest - that was what he did anyway.  I've always gone oldest to youngest so youthful fruit does not dominate refinement and sophistication of age.

All the wines exhibited a rich, deep, dark red to red black colour and although the 'purple' tones were lost, they still had flashes of crimson. Some bricking was just starting to develop on the rims of the two older wines.Three Unison wines

Unison Selection 1998 is a soft sensual wine, liquoricey and savoury with cedar kicking in and raisined currant-like fruit. Integrated but still complex tannins, a deep profound taste and a long, full sweet-fruited finish. Beautiful.

Unison Selection 1999 is quite chocolatey upfront with biscuity oak and grainy tannins when the wine is first tasted but leaves a 'fine' impression on the persistent finish. Not as fruity as the 1998 with chocolate / mocha - particularly mocha at the end. A deep, concentrated wine and still evolving.

Unison Selection 2000 is so youthful compared to the previous two. Classy French oak on the nose emits a Bordeaux-like 'cedary' complexity and sweet fruit fills the palate - cherry, plum, baked blackberry - some bittersweet fruit coming through too and then a kick of peppery spice. Again, deep and rich with tannins silky and integrated. The brightest of the three on show with still years and years of life ahead of it.

Back in the main room Unison Selection 2006 was poured from the bottle.  The colour was intense and vivid with purple flashes everywhere - its youth was patently apparent. Beautifully fragrant nose of classy oak and deep fruit then in the palate intense blackcurrant / blackberry / violet with lovely anise-like spice and big oak pushing through to claim its superiority on the finish all the while the tannins very silky and refined. Seeing how the others have aged, I'd put this away for a while. 

The back vintages were on show because they are still available to buy from the winery - a mere snip at $70 a bottle. The current 'Selection' release, the 2006, is $48. Check out the website -

Unison also have a much more affordable wine at just $15 a bottle. They've called it Recession Red 2008. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah, it's smooth and easy drinking with soft gentle tannins, juicy plum-like fruit, plenty of winey spices and a hint of violets adding a little 'x' factor. 

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

Bubbly Sauvignon Surprise

He handed me a glass of wine for a five o'clock drink - an ordinary glass that's usually filled with a Chardonnay tipple - or if 'm lucky, a Riesling. But as soon as I smelt it I knew it was left field for the chardonnay drinking man because this was a bright fruity Sauvignon Blanc - fresh and pungent with exuberant 'leap out of the glass' aromatics.

Lindauer SBHe watched me as I took a sip, wanting to see my reaction - and reaction there was because this was no ordinary sauvignon blanc - this was a sparkling wine and the onslaught of bubbles really gave the mouth one heck of a fright. But once the effervescence subsided there were all the classical savvy flavours floating on a bed of creamy mousse with a soft finish and a lingering pungency. I'm a sauvignon blanc fan and yep, I liked it. Tres tres nice.

The wine is Lindauer and although it is not NZ's first sparkling sauv blanc - Mount Riley 'Savvee' takes that honour - and until now the Mount Riley has been unique. Now Lindauer will bring the style to the masses. Montana and Lindauer have found an excellent solution to the excess of sauvignon blanc produced in 2008. They say it has an RRP of $14.99 but Lindauer in all its forms has a regular cycle of discounted specials. It'll be under $10 somewhere, you'll see. Look for the shiny silver and apple green label.

I'm going to see what the rellies think at a one year old's birthday party this Saturday.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2009