Sue's Avatar


Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings

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

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

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

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

Click here for this site's RSS feed.

Archive: November 2009
Nov 30th: WOTW: Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2008
Nov 29th: A Wine Lover's Companion
Nov 28th: Shooting from the hip with a fully loaded revolver
Nov 26th: Lunch at Molten with Mitre Rocks
Nov 25th: Lunch at The Grove with Misha
Nov 22nd: Air New Zealand Wine Awards Trophies
Nov 21st: Lunch at the Enoteca
Nov 19th: What is the best value Champagne in New Zealand?
Nov 16th: WOTW: Church Road Tom Chardonnay 2006
Nov 16th: Riesling with Whitebait Fritters
Nov 14th: 297 gold medal winning wines
Nov 12th: A Sauvignon Gris please
Nov 11th: Marie Zelie - NZ's most expensive Pinot Noir
Nov 10th: Marlborough Wine Weekend Grand Tasting of Pinot Noir
Nov 8th: Marlborough Wine Weekend Grand Tasting of Sauvignon Blanc
Nov 6th: Excellence in Rodney rewarded and a new cellar door
Nov 5th: Last drink for wine pioneer
Nov 4th: Just how big is Marlborough - Part 2
Nov 2nd: Just how big is Marlborough - Part 1
Older Entries

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

WOTW: Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2008

When the latest batch of wines arrived and I entered then into the database, I was amazed to see a Pinot Gris with an alcohol of 15% by volume. "That's pretty grunty for Pinot Gris," I thought.

It worried me a little because people will pour a glass, and a normal glass pour would be closer to two 'standard' drinks, than one, and no one would know. The bottle said this had nine standard drinks - that calculates out to 83ml a 'standard drink' pour. Even a small wineglass holds about 120ml (6 pours from a bottle) and most hold a little bit more. A couple of glasses at after work drinks and it wouldn't be long before you were over the limit.

But this was a Pinot Gris with lovely balance, flavour, mouthfeel and length. In fact I couldn't believe how good this wine was even with 15% alcohol.

Read more ....

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

A Wine Lover's Companion

I was listening to Karl du Fresne being interviewed on National Radio the other day. The former wine columnist in Sunday magazine, who lost his column space when the advertising quota was increased, was talking about his book, The New Zealand Wine Lovers Companion. People are always asked how they got into wine and it was then I found out some wine trivia to file away for future reference. Karl du Fresne had an uncle, Viggo du Fresne who was a pioneering winemaker in Nelson in the 1960's. He preceded Hermann Seifried and Tim Finn (Neudorf) but there is no mention of Viggo and his vineyard at Ruby Bay, now, except in this new book. Another uncle was Dick Scott, who was perhaps NZ's first serious wine writer. So wine kind of pumped through the veins of the family.

I had thumbed through du Fresne's book in a book store and it is an A to Z of wine terms, but specifically for the Kiwi drinker, so you are not going to find only stuff in the book that you can also find in an online glossary. But not having read the book in entirety, I'll leave it to Raymond Chan to sum it up - check out what he has to say here.

So if you clicked on that link you will see Karl du Fresne has a blog - - mostly his opinion pieces published in Fairfax newspapers but he does blog about wine occasionally, too.

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

Shooting from the hip with a fully loaded revolver

A Waiheke Island wine that really seemed just so ordinary in a blind tasting and faded in comparison when lined up against some Hawkes Bay superstars (including Church Road Reserve Merlot Cabernet 2007, which I scored 19/20), proved to be a fully loaded star when matched to food. That food was a steak cut from a fillet of beef, a delicious garden fresh spinach accompaniment, baked grated carrots and creamy mashed potatoes. The food bought the wine to life, the wine complemented the food beautifully and with everything in harmony, it was the Waiheke Island wine that shot the others down in the wine and food matching part of the tasting.

Soho Revolver Fully Loaded 2007 is a blend of 39% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Malbec and 9% Cabernet Franc from a vineyard in Onetangi and was aged in French oak barriques of which just 20% was new. This concentrated red is a deep dark colour with some ruby to the hue and displays its ripe red berry character both on the nose and in the palate where the tannins are silky and the oak has a spicy vibrancy. Yet there's also a strong herbal character which probably was its downfall in the blind tasting, yet was the element that made this wine so delicious with the food.  It has a screwcap closure and alcohol checks in at a respectable 13% by volume. Price is the last matter of importance and the $38 asking price on the website ( befits the quality.

I have to remember how I cooked the spinach - New Zealand native spinach that's taking over my sister's back yard - so I'll share the recipe here which means that Google will help me find it next time. I melted a decent dollop of butter in a 26cm diameter frying pan and added a finely chopped shallot with some finely chopped garlic and a very fine dice of bacon then added the washed spinach, that before cooking filled a reasonable sized bag. As the spinach wilted it decreased quite considerably in size. In my 19cm diameter frying pan I warmed about 1/4 cup of cream and by now the spinach had decreased enough in size to fit in the small pan. So in it went and the cream seemed to evaporate as it coated the spinach all over. The big pan with the spinach-cooking residue was then used to fry the steaks just the way we like it - rare for him and medium rare for me.

The carrot side was easy - one carrot was grated and put in a little glass dish, with lid, to microwave for 3 minutes, then the lid is removed and butter, salt and pepper are added. No further cooking is necessary.

So if you are making a meal like mine and want a red to accompany, then Soho Revolver Fully Loaded 2007 - or something on the medium-bodied side just like this would be ideal.

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

Lunch at Molten with Mitre Rocks

I was prepared for something hot at Molten restaurant in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden and it was the wines that were hot including a pre-taster of Taittinger Champagne. The lunch was a degustation affair with Central Otago wines from Mitre Rocks and Mount Dottrel the stars. But I was impressed with the food too and I've made a note to eat at Molten again sometime.

A hot and spicy coconut soup with a lychee and rocket salad topped with a garnish of crispy duck skin was the match for Mount Dottrel Central Otago Pinot Gris 2009 ($18). The wine is light in colour but rich in aroma and flavour. Typically PG on the nose with heady scents of pear drop, the flavours are spicy and zesty with apple and pear flavours and a lightly oily texture. It builds in palate richness and has a stonefruit sweetness to the persistent finish. The food match was also an inspired accompaniment to the Champagne.

Mount Dottrel Saignee Rose 2009 ($18) has that beautiful translucent watermelon pink colour that just looks so delightful in the glass. It’s a little shy on the nose to start but later I detect strawberry and cherry with a hint of wild thyme. A light touch of viscosity is rather pleasing and it’s fairly dry with concentrated strawberry and a hint of black cherry with extra complexity from a small portion of barrel ferment. The food match of salty pork belly and peppery char-grilled sea scallops was excellent.

Mount Dottrel Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 ($27.50) has been a star performer on the international show circuit and it performed at our tasting too. In fact it almost outperformed the Mitre Rocks Pinot Noir 2007, which costs $10 a bottle more. But in reality the Mount Dottrel is ready whereas the denser, richer and oakier Mitre Rocks needs a little more time. Winemaker Carol Bunn said she made the Mount Dottrel to represent quintessential Central Otago Pinot. She certainly did. Read more about this wine on this week's Wine of the Week review.

Mitre Rocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 ($32) is bright in colour and bright in its aromatic expression. It’s a gorgeous, savoury and deeply spicy wine exhibiting a tight and slightly grainy tannin structure with hints of tamarillo emerging on the finish. Matched to a venison spring roll with sour chocolate and braised shallot puree (pictured) -a fantastic idea but chocolate ain’t what it used to be and it was just a little sweet for both the wine and me.

Lastly a sneak preview of the 2008 vintage Pinots - a lighter vintage all round, but the silky textured, sensual, savoury Mitre Rocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 will be the star - there’s something about this wine that reminds me of the 2007 Mount Dottrel - it’s going to be a beautiful wine.

Prices quoted are off the website and the wines are likely to be slightly more in retail. Find out more from

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

Lunch at The Grove with Misha

The Grove is hailed as one of Auckland's best restaurants by the critics so it is good to have an opportunity to try the food out for yourself to see if it is as good as the critics say. My opportunity came when Misha and Andy Wilkinson invited some of the local wine media to lunch to try their new Central Otago releases and taste them with food. As that's how I like to enjoy my wines, there was little hesitation in saying yes.

Misha Vineyard Riesling 2008 was the pre-taster and having rated this 8 out of 10 last year, when I was first introduced to Misha's Vineyard (and that link tells the story), it was good to see that this off dry style lived up to that rating. Served chilled it has a delicious juicy crunchiness with hints of sweet citrus, pineapple and ginger and works well as a beverage wine without food.

Three new vintage whites were poured at the table to be enjoyed with food.

Misha's Dress Circle Pinot Gris 2009 ($27) was matched to a sashimi of yellow fin tuna. The wine is exuberantly youthful with an estery overlay to the apple and citrus scents and an oily richness to the texture. It is moderately sweet with vanilla and poached pear with a spiced apple finish becoming more floral as the chilled wine warms up with a hint of port wine magnolia (bubblegum) florals. A bit heady on its own but excellent as a food wine. It was even better with the Riesling food match than the Riesling was.

Misha's Limelight Riesling 2009 ($26) was matched to crispy pork cheeks encapsulated in breadcrumbs. The wine's scent hints of its moderate sweetness and the flavours exude apple, lime and honeysuckle with hints of tropical fruit and just a touch of oiliness to the texture. A concentrated style with a weighty finish and later, when the wine has warmed up, there's a strong sense of grapefruit. I think this is going to develop beautifully like the 2008 has with that extra year of age.

Misha's The Gallery Gewurztraminer 2009 ($28) was the showstopper, however. This light oily-textured gewurz is spicy yet delicate at this stage of its life and doesn't want to be overly chilled to let the aromas of ginger flower, rose petal and violet come forth. Off dry to the taste with a lovely infusion of aromatic spices and delicate floral on the finish, it has persistence but is not overpowering. Thirty per cent was fermented in barrels with indigenous yeasts.

The food match was a crayfish and salmon terrine served with a variety of condiments including yoghurt and dill, a watercress emulsion and pink grapefruit segments. This was a versatile food match and could have accompanied any of the wines, the grapefruit in particular simply delicissimo with the Riesling.

The main course wine was Misha's 'The High Note' Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 ($45), matched to a ballontine of quail. This wine was so deliciously good; it's one of two wines of the week this week. Click here to read that review.

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

Air New Zealand Wine Awards Trophies

Air New Zealand Champion Wine of the Show - Julicher Pinot Noir 2008
Incredibly this is the first time a Martinborough Pinot Noir has won the overall champion accolade at the Air New Zealand Wine awards although it is not the first time Julicher Estate has won Champion Wine of a Show - they did it two years ago with the 2006 vintage of their Pinot Noir at the NZ International Wine Show.  Congrats Wm and Sue.

Other Trophy winners were -
Champion Sparkling Wine: Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 2006
Champion Chardonnay: Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Chardonnay 2007
Champion Sauvignon Blanc: Catalina Sounds Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Champion Riesling: Esk Valley Marlborough Riesling 2009
Champion Pinot Gris: Couper's Shed Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009
Champion Gewurztraminer: Johanneshof Cellars Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009
Champion Other White Styles & Rosé: Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007
Champion Pinot Noir: Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008
Champion Syrah: Coopers Creek SV Hawkes Bay Syrah Chalk Ridge 2008
Champion Merlot: Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes BayMerlot 2007
Champion Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot/Cabernet Blend: Mills Reef Elspeth Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot 2007
Champion Other Red Styles: Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2008
Champion Dessert Wine: Farmgate Noble Harvest Riesling 2007

Wines that are grown on sustainable vineyards also compete for the Sustainable Trophy. 
Champion Sustainable Wine:  Olssens Annieburn Central Otago Riesling 2009

Wines that were top in their classes with stock levels declared in excess of 22,500 litres competed for the 'Open' trophies. The winners were -
Champion Open Red Wine: Waipara Hills Southern Cross Selection Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008
Champion Open White Wine: Forrest The Doctors' Marlborough Riesling 2009

The Exhibition classes were for wines with a minimum of 450 litres. The winners were -
Champion Exhibition White or Sparkling Wine: Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2006
Champion Exhibition Red Wine: Georgetown Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007

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

Lunch at the Enoteca

When I heard the North Shore Wine and Food Society was planning their Christmas trip to one of my favourite winery restaurants, I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the club of which I am a life member. The destination was Vin Alto in the high country above Clevedon, south of Auckland, where Enzo and Margaret Bettio utilise their land not only for grapes, but also for olives, an array of fruit trees and traditional animal farming where deer are the mainstay.

Hospitality at the Enotica is paramount and on arrival Vin Alto's Classic White Port Spritzer, was served. It reminded me a little of Pimms.

On the menu the feast was titled a "Traditional Italian style family Christmas." We were quite a big family, 40 of us in fact, and so the menu was a set one.

We started with a selection of antipasti from the farm, including Enzo's home cured salami and Parma style ham with whole roasted garlic, marinated mushrooms, gherkins, olives, pickled onions, smoked fish pate and other delicacies plus lots of fresh crusty bread. Then followed a veal scallopini and three varieties of home made pasta - one with venison sausage, one with vegetables and the other with seafood including Clevedon cockles and mussels, accompanied with a fresh green salad. Then to top this delicious meal off, there was a lighter than a feather Tiramisu. Heaps of food, no-one was left wanting and the Society was generous with the wines. I tried a little of each before deciding what to drink.

Vin Alto Pinot Grigio Riserva 2006 ($25) - moderate gold in colour, this has a lanolin overlay to the scent and the palate is fat and oily with a spicy mealy undercurrent and hints of apricot and peach.

Clevedon Hills Chiara Arneis Chardonnay 2006 ($19.90) - light gold in colour, this has aromatic, leesy, and mealy scents with hint of flowers and stone fruit as it opens up. Medium bodied and spicy in the palate with a buttery backbone and peach and apricot fruit, there's a richness and fullness to the finish and a heady sense too.

I preferred the Chiara and it was a pleasing accompaniment with the antipasti. There were three reds to try.

Vin Alto Di Sotto 2002 ($?) - a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese, this is Burgundy red with a translucent appearance. The nose is enticing with smooth, mellow cedary scents and a touch of cake spice. Not your normal style of Kiwi red, more European in style with fruit a distant memory, underlying acidity adds brightness to the fruit and there is underlying earth and funky notes.

Vin Alto Shiraz Leighton’s Block 2007 ($24.90) - this deep purple red colured 'Shiraz' has peppery aromas with rose spice and violet and spicy flavours with an earthy savoury backbone. It is medium-bodied in style with smooth creamy tannins, juicy purple berries, plums, all spice, camphor, dried herbs and a savoury finish with a hint of bitter chocolate. I found nuances in this wine that reminded me of the gold medal winning Passage Rock Syrah 2008 tasted just the other night - and let's face it, Waiheke is very close as the crow flies. Enzo said it was a difficult year that produced tiny berries. I enjoyed this wine immensely on its own, but the pasta dishes were really more suited to the whites, I thought.

Vin Alto Merlot Montepulciano 2005 ($22) - Fading Burgundy hue. Earthy aromatics with some mushroom and leather funk. A soft impression on the palate with a rubbed satin texture, a deep sensual savoury undercurrent and a floral infusion to the gentle but persistent finish. This came later in the meal when our table of 11 had exhausted the other two reds, so I didn't try with the food.

Last, a very more-ish sweet wine, Vin Alto Vin Santo 2004 ($32.50), made from a blend of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grapes that had been air dried before barrel fermentation. A bright gold colour with a tantalising tropical fruit scent and peach and pineapple flavours that live up to the expectations that the aromas offer. Just delicious.

It's always a lovely visit to the Enoteca and I can't wait until next time. But I will have to.

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

What is the best value Champagne in New Zealand?

In my opinion it has to be H Lanvin & Fils Brut NV - this was a great quaffer last year and a bottle of last year's Cuvée that I took to our 1998 reds tasting last month, for a pre-tasting mouth cleanser, had garnered some rather pleasing bottle-derived complexities. But for most of the time, well from the high-flying retailers anyway, the wine is quite fresh. I've tasted it several times recently because it was a gold medal winner at the NZ International, gold medal and 'Champion Champagne' at the Liquorland Top 100 and five stars and No. 1 rated Champagne under $100 in the Cuisine tasting. At the most recent tasting session - of some of the Cuisine five star wines, I wrote -

"Sweetish lemony, leesy aromas with toasted hazelnut and cashew scents adding to sensory allure and a light kiss and delicate caress to the palate from the creamy mousse that is full of finesse. Slightly salty creamed nuts and savoury lemon lees flavours are not overpowering and with its extra long finish, this lovely fresh Champagne has lots of appeal".

Yes, it was best value by far and Cuisine have a price range of $46 to $55, but you can buy it for less than $46 if you shop around and if you pay over $50, you are paying too much. Better still if you have some of last year's stock in your drinking cupboard. The price was $10 cheaper last year (Actually I paid $39.99 a bottle) and the bottle aged characters just added that little je ne sais quoi.

I was also totally enamoured with the distinctive yellow-orange labelled Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV. Of all the Champagnes in the tasting, this had the intriguing and beguiling aroma of all.  I wrote -

" ....freshly roasted macadamias, vanilla bean and honey aromas lead into a surprisingly quite savoury palate with a sizzled butter complexity and a richness of fine effervescent bubbly foam. Toasty, creamy and buttery with a long leesy nutty savoury finish -  just beautiful".

Veuve Clicquot can cost up to $90 but I've seen it for considerably less. It was rated five stars and No. 2 Champagne under $100 in the Cuisine magazine tasting.

Click here to check out all my reviews from that tasting, including Piper Heidsieck, Louis Roederer, Mumm and Bollinger.

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

WOTW: Church Road Tom Chardonnay 2006

When I arrived at the First Glass tasting last Wednesday night, I said to Kingsley Wood (who is possibly the country's most devoted Chardonnay fan) than I had tasted a simply amazing Chardonnay that day. 

He went on to say in his weekly newsletter that I said that I believed it may be the greatest New Zealand Chardonnay I have ever tried.

Read more ....

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

Riesling with Whitebait Fritters

Neil's sister gave him some whitebait to take home when he called in to visit over the weekend. She and her man had caught this expensive-to-buy delicacy at Port Waikato on the west coast south of Auckland, where the Waikato River meets the Tasman Sea. I decided to taste some Rieslings.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2008 is the absolute perfect beverage wine. That is I enjoyed drinking it more on its own than with food. With its medium sweetness and zesty disposition and mandarin and tropical fruit flavours, it is perfect for afternoon entertaining and pre-dinner drinks. Tasted blind it proved once again why Pegasus Bay makes one of my favourite Rieslings. But it didn't go with the whitebait.

Framingham Classic Marlborough Riesling 2007 is a fruity wine and really suits being chilled, which makes it taste so juicy and quenching and introduces a nuance of lime into the sweeter citrussy flavours. But it didn't go with the whitebait.

Muddy Water Dry Waipara Riesling 2008 has a toasty character running through it. It's a richer, weightier style with lemon and grapefruit peel with some floral notes coming through on the finish. But it didn't go with the whitebait.

Muddy Water Unplugged Riesling 2008 is golden in colour and absolutely packed with honey and botrytis characters and tastes almost like nectar. It's like many wines that come only in 375ml bottles because they are so concentrated. It definitely didn't go with the whitebait.

Astrolabe Marlborough Riesling 2008 is classically dry with a cheesy character coming through but is also incredibly austere with some astringency. It's one of those wines that really need some age to blossom. It didn't go with the whitebait.

So I pushed the wines to one side and enjoyed the delicious whitebait fritters that Neil had cooked with just enough egg batter to hold them together.  The sweetness of the tiny fish was balanced by the salty taste of the sea. This seasonal treat was enough to savour and enjoy - simply on its own.

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

297 gold medal winning wines

Phew - I've just finished adding the Air New Zealand gold medal winners to my list of gold medal winning New Zealand wines. The judges at the most recent show, the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, awarded gold medals to 102 wines of the 1655 entered. Of these 102 wines, 63 are new to golden success; 30 have already won gold medals this year and the remaining nine have won gold in the previous competition seasons that I have compiled results for.

There are some new names amongst the results - names I had never heard of before. Couper's Shed from Marlborough and Georgetown Vineyard from Central Otago were two I had to look up.

Of course there were the expected names, most notably Villa Maria who won an incredible 15 gold medals and Saint Clair, with four golds for Sauvignon and another for Chardonnay. Trinity Hill won four golds and is set to take the Other Reds trophy for Tempranillo - but will it be the 2007 or the 2008 that gets the nod? Church Road, Forrest Estate and Waimea Estate all won three gold medals, as did Margain, whose three golds were for three differents varietals that entered in the sweet wine class.

There are now 297 wines that have won gold medals in wine competitions held in New Zealand since the 2009-2010 season began in August.   Click here to check out my list.

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

A Sauvignon Gris please

What's this Sauvignon Gris?

A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, perhaps?

"People could quite well think so," says Montana Wines chief winemaker, Jeff Clarke. He says it presents with the punch of Sauvignon Blanc and the texture and pear-like nuances of Pinot Gris.

But a blend it is not.

Sauvignon Gris is a grape variety in its own right, though it's heritage is hazy. A mutation of Sauvignon Blanc perhaps although some people think it may be a cross with Gewürztraminer because the grapes have a pink skin, the other parent perhaps Chenin Blanc. It is also hazily believed to be one of the parent grapes of both Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, despite the origins, what does the new Montana Showcase Series Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2009 taste like?

Surprisingly like Sauvignon Blanc, in my opinion, with grassy aromas and grass, herb, nettle and gooseberry flavours. Where it is different is in its slight honey character and of course there is no sweat, no cats pee and no flamboyant tropical fruit - it’s like Sauvignon Blanc as it used to be in the 1980’s.

I think people who find today's mainstream overly pungent savvies just that little bit too pungent, will love this Gris rendition.

Montana hope to make the variety more mainstream too, with the introduction of Sauvignon Gris in the widely available classic series.

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

Marie Zelie - NZ's most expensive Pinot Noir

Yesterday I said there are very few Pinot Noirs in New Zealand that can match the price of Premier Cru Burgundy. But there is at least one and I tasted it last week. Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Pinot Noir 2006, a new release, retails for $180 a bottle. I'm delighted that I received an invitation to taste it, because this is wine that is out of my price range.

paulmason.jpg (38183 bytes)"Who buys wines that cost this amount of money?" I asked winemaker Paul Mason.
"Shareholders, investors, fine wine lovers," he said.
But would they drink it? After tasting the first release, the Marie Zelie 2003, I say they should.

Although I was invited to the release tasting two years ago I couldn't attend, so this was my first tasting of the country's then most expensive Pinot Noir and I have to say that right now this is a beautiful, beautiful wine - and probably better now than on release.

Deep burgundy in hue, the Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Pinot Noir 2003 is smooth, savoury, earthy and meaty with a silky fruit sweetness and a soft sensual texture. The kind of wine you'd like to sit down with a big glass of and muse over with wine loving fiends. On the nose those lovely anise/cinnamon spices and mellow integrated oak and a spicy richness and brightness to the flavour when you take a big mouthful and let it roll around your mouth before swallowing. Paul tells me that on release the fruit was more primary and the savouriness more subtle - a bit like the newly released 2006 is now - but with bottle age this cork closed wine is mellowing nicely.

In contrast Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Pinot Noir 2006 looks much more youthful with a ruby glow to the hue and has a beguiling perfume of earth and florals with primary cherry fruit and a touch of rose petal coming through. In the palate it's a bright, youthful, creamy wine with primary cherry fruit over a svelte velvety texture and a mellow savouriness on the finish. I wouldn't pick it as 3 three old - but hints of mellowing could be a clue. It hasn't garnered the complexity that the 2003 is exhibiting, but remember what a good year that 2006 was in Martinborough. This new vintage is under screwcap - yes a $180 screwcap wine - which takes the risk of corked wine away. I wonder what the investors will say?

mbv-mz.jpg (37214 bytes)Who is Marie Zelie, you ask. Good question. Her name is little known, but she is a genuine wine pioneer of the Wairarapa region. The French born mademoiselle, who married William Beetham Jr, missed her native France so much that within a year of moving to Masterton in 1882 she had planted a small vineyard to remind her of home. By 1892, 3000 cuttings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Hermitage (what we now call Syrah) had been planted on the Beetham's estate, Highmore, further north in the Wairarapa. Prohibition in 1908 put an end to the vineyard however. The relationship with Martinborough Vineyard is created when Derek Milne, one of the vineyard's founders, marries Marie Zelie's great great niece, Margaret Creech, in 1983. William Beetham is often credited as Wairarapa's wine pioneer. But like all great men in history, there's a women that probably deserves as much credit.

When Claire Mulholland took over as winemaker, following on from Larry McKenna, she decided to eliminate the reserve wines that had been made sporadically in the past. But with 2003 being almost the perfect season in Martinborough, the fruit was too good not to do something special with. So the decision was made to honour Marie Zelie. That honour continues with the 2006.

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

Marlborough Wine Weekend Grand Tasting of Pinot Noir

Marlborough is more than just Sauvignon Blanc. There's plenty of Pinot Noir grown in New Zealand's most famous wine region too. Funny, though, that many people don't realise just how good Marlborough Pinot Noir can be. Tom Cannavan, one of the panellists for the Pinot Noir tasting at the Marlborough Wine Weekend, put it into a UK perspective. "People buzz about Central Otago pinot noir - the clarity of the fruit, the sweetness of the fruit, the freshness of the wine," he said. My take on his comments is that Pinot Noir from Central Otago has a better international marketing campaign. There is no doubt that Pinot Noir is what Central Otago does best and they flaunt their number one grape's success. But like the gorgeous Central Otago Rieslings and Gewurztraminers that should not be ignored yet barely get a mention, Pinot Noir from Marlborough should not be ignored either. In fact, when it comes to value in New Zealand pinot noir, Marlborough is where one should look. They don't get much better than Vidal Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 - a bargain at $19.99 a bottle and a recent Wine of the Week right here on

There were no bargains in the Marlborough Wine Weekend's Grand Tasting that explored 'The World of Pinot Noir'. There was a Central Otago wine, however. There was also a wine from Martinborough as well as wines from Australia and Burgundy. So how would the Marlborough wines fare in the tasting of 2006 vintage wines?

MWW-PNwines.jpg (48865 bytes)These were the wines we tasted and my notes ...

Kooyong Ferrous Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir 2006, Mornington Peninsula (A$43)
Savoury and earthy with dried cherry aromas. Quite spicy to the taste with a fine silky texture, bright fruit and a long dry finish where some bitter chocolate and cherry come through. A hint of mocha too. A dry, medium-bodied wine with well balanced acidity and firm tannins. Shows potential.

Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2006, Willamette Valley, Oregon (US$40)
Earthy, gravely aromas with a hint of paint box. A silky, sensuous texture caresses the palate with pretty cherry / raspberry fruit - the wine tastes so much better than the nose would suggest. Hints of chocolate with a fruit cake spiciness to the cherry fruit, wonderful vinous sweetness and softness - the sweetest and most succulent of all nine wines. Excellent length, Very good.

Saint Clair Block 4 Sawcut Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (NZ$30)
Deep in colour with a rich, earthy, savoury aroma. Bright in the palate with cherry, tamarillo and dried herb the features. Oak is a little dominant right now and the texture is chalky and there is perhaps a green edge to the fruit. The most controversial of all the wines. I put the difference down the lime stone soils and the southern Marlborough vineyard location 40 kilometres south of Blenheim.

Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 (NZ$70)
This a big, ripe, dark, creamy wine with aromas of red berries, dried earth and dried hay. I sense the power immediately - it is so profoundly different to the first three wines There's a savoury nuance foremost to the flavour with grainy tannins and underlying acidity with fruit expressed as strawberry, plum, red guava and then an emergence of chocolate. Quite youthful in evolution in this line-up.

Quartz Reef Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 (NZ$39)
A fragrant wine with aromas of dark cherry fruit, earth and florals - it has a pretty aromatic sense. This does not really prepare for the tight expression and firm grainy tannins that present in the mouth, but the tannins melt away to reveal a deep savoury richness, a juicy succulence and the brightness of red fruit on the finish.

Domaine Denis Bachelet Gevry Chambertin 1er cru Les Corbeaux Cote de Nuits Pinot Noir 2006 (~NZ$100)
The aroma almost has a 'wow' factor - bright and distinct - like strawberries on steroids with a fragrant oak regime. Pity the tannins are so hard and dry - they strip the mouth of all its saliva so that any positive taste attributes are almost rendered null and void. But not quite. There’s typical red cherry underpinned by an earthy savouriness with a vinous richness trying very hard to emerge and that once upon a time I was told was "French Terroir" but now I simply call Brett. An expensive wine that simply failed to deliver.

Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (NZ$45)
Complex aromatics hinting of mocha, manure, poached tamarillo and fruits of the forest. From the intriguing want-to-keep-smelling-it aroma, it is then the smooth, silky, velvet chocolate texture that sets this wine apart from the others. The flavours are dark and savoury with lots of funk, hints of mushroom, underlying acidity and dried herb nuances with great persistence of cherry and strawberry fruit. Silky, sensual pinot in a well-rounded medium to full-bodied package - just beautiful.

Fairhall Downs Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (NZ$34)
On the nose there's a hint of volatile acidity and paintbox to the strawberry / cherry / raspberry aromatics - it smells a little confectionary too. The paintbox character carries through to the sweet-fruited palate that is rich and chocolatey with a long persistent, earthy savoury finish with tamarillo and orange peel adding additional intrigue.

Domaine Chantal Lescure Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Suchets 2006, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, France (~NZ$160)
Rich, deep oaky fragrance - perhaps the merest hint of Brett. A deep, rich wine with a silky texture, deep red fruit, hints of liquorice, spice and vinous appeal. There's a creamy richness throughout and flavours that surge in and out of sweetness and savouriness. Texturally appealing with a very dry finish and such a contrast to other Burgundy - this one I'd actually like to drink.

To me it was a Marlborough wine that was the standout wine of the tasting based on what I'd like to drink now - the top nod easily going to the Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006. My second favourite was the Argyle from Oregon with Domaine Chantal from Burgundy getting the nod for third.

I'd love to do a tasting like this blind. And as someone else suggested, it would be a good idea to put wines of the same price points together to see how they fared. Problem is, there are very few wines in New Zealand that can match the price of Premier Cru Burgundy.

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

Marlborough Wine Weekend Grand Tasting of Sauvignon Blanc

One of the surprising things about the Marlborough Wine Weekend was that 2007 was the featured vintage for the Grand Tasting of Sauvignon Blanc. Okay, I guess with 2009 there are no northern hemisphere wines available yet, but what about 2008 as a showcase year? Certainly it was a controversial season in Marlborough but the sub-regional tastings during the weekend proved there are some super 2008's to be found. In fact 2008 seemed like a vintage where the good wines were really really good and still surprisingly fresh.  Or perhaps the Marlborough producers are trying to destroy the myth that Sauvignon Blanc must be consumed as quickly as possible in order to make way for perennial 'new vintage' each year.

One of the highlights of the Sauvignon Blanc tasting was the venue at Winegrowers of Ara.  It was pretty easy to get distracted by the contrasting greens of grass / new growth of the vines and the moody hills in the background framed by the openings in the marquee where approximately 300 people tasted the wines. 

MWW-SBvenue.jpg (69580 bytes) MWW-SBwines.jpg (38727 bytes)

There were eight wines in the Sauvignon Blanc grand tasting and they represented a diversity of regions and styles. Here follows my notes on the wines in the order tasted.

Henri Bourgeois Le Demoiselle Pouilly Fume, Loire Valley, France
Not showing much on nose, later a bit broad, vegetal, with apple the dominant fruit character. Some reduction apparent in palate. Rich and textural with apples and honey with a persistent steely finish - although quite soft acidity when compared to the other French wine.

Forrest Hill Mt Barker 2007 - Great Southern, Western Australia
Grassy and just a little musky on the nose. Limes are to the fore in the palate - a fresh, racy wine - crisp, steely and bone dry. Very good, if light. But so fresh now, makes you think it would have been unapproachable on release just four months after bottling.

Nautilus Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
There's a gooseberry and bean profile to the aroma then in the palate the wine is powerful and intense with a richness that the first two do not have There's a hint of mandarin/grapefruit underpinning the pea/bean notes with some nectarine on the finish and tropical / passionfruit notes on the lingering finish. Drinking well right now.

Highfield Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Green bean on the nose with a touch of sweetness. This is a little gravely in texture with a flinty character pervading the flavour. The wine is rich with a vegetal profile and a sweet fruit finish where passionfruit comes through. A small portion saw barrel ferment with 5 months on yeast lees - this seems to add a softness to the overall impression.

Didier Dagueneau Buisson Renard 2007, Pouilly Fume, Loire Valley, France
Rich, smoky, intense with toasty nuances and nettles. Creamy in the palate with butter caramel-liked wild yeast nuances and a leesy sweetness to the finish. Again a touch of flintiness and the finish is dry. High acidity adds a spicy zestiness. As the wine is mused over it becomes more and more intense with stonefruit emerging on the lasting finish. This has benefited from the use of old, large format, neutral oak

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Casablanca Valley, Chile
With a smoky, fume note to the aroma, this wine has a steely nuance with lime and apple adding acid lift. Grapefruit, smoke and a nuance of toast comes through followed by dried passionfruit and apple the dominant fruit on the finish. There's an earthy depth to the wine, perhaps from the 4 months on yeast lees.

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Distinctly what I think of as a Marlborough wine with two years of age, and so transparently so, after tasting two foreigners. Citrus and pea/bean aromas with a lime infusion carry through bright, almost brassy, grassy finish with lots of apple, lime and herbs adding mid-palate vibrancy.

Seresin "Marama" Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
A little deep in colour than the other wines on the table, this yellow-gold hued wine has aromas of wild yeast/hokey pokey caramel - aromas that are deep, inviting and intense. Full-bodied, creamy with a mealy richness, drilled stonefruits, tropical guavas supported by underlying acidity with spicy oak adding a tingle to the finish, an outstanding example of the style. It had 100% barrel ferment with 25% new oak, partial malolactic fermentation and 25 months on lees made from the oldest vines of the organic certified estate.

The Seresin was a clear standout for me and showed some similar flavours and texture to the Didier Dagueneau which I also liked, but the Seresin clearly had more power and intensity all the way through. Sauvignon Blanc on steroids. Delicious.

Interesting a show of hands concluded that the Seresin was the crowd favourite too.

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

Excellence in Rodney rewarded and a new cellar door

The Rodney region is often missed by visiting A-list wine writers but being on the northern edge of Auckland City (and soon to be part of the SuperCity) the region is a popular day or weekend destination for Auckland-based wine lovers with plenty of wineries to visit in both  Kumeu and Matakana.  Now several wine-focussed establishments have been rewarded for excellence and sustainability by the Manaakitanga Awards for the hospitality and tourism industry.

Ascension Wine Estate in Matakana wins Outstanding Winery Experience with owner / winemaker Darryl Soljan also winning the Hospitality Personality Award.

Herons Flight in Matakana is the winner of the Outstanding 'Slow' Dish for Bill Hohepa's raw Kahawai marinated in Chardonnay vinegar, capers and parsley and served on ciabatta.

The Vintry in Matakana is the winner of the Best Local Wine List.   The Vintry exclusively stocks Matakana wines, many of which are available for tasting.

See for all the winners

Hawks Nest is the newest cellar door to open in Rodney.  It is at 646 Matakana Road, about half way between Warkworth and Matakana and the vineyard is instantly recognisable by the relic brick chimney in the front vineyard.  New owners Jeremy and Lynette Noakes opened for the first time on Labour Weekend and will continue to open from 11am to 5pm on weekends and public holidays until Easter. Hawks Nest is an operating orchard, which Jeremy has managed since 1991 however the opportunity to purchase came last year when the previous owners, Jim and Sandra Daniel, returned to the USA.  As well as wine there is seasonal produce for sale. Persimmons are the main crop the the property.  Supporting crops include cherimoyas, avocados and limes.

Currently there are four wines to taste in the converted sheep shearing shed.   Three come from grapes grown on the property - they are a tasty 2009 vintage pink, and a 2007 vintage red and a 2006 vintage red, both made from Cabernet Franc and Malbec grapes.  The other wine is a 2005 Merlot made from Hawkes Bay grapes.

Hawks Nest Cabernet Franc Rose 2009 ($22) has a pretty perfume and cool, fresh, crisp flavours of strawberry and raspberry with just a touch of savouriness, a suggestion of spiciness, subtle grip and a light viscosity.  Serve chilled it is quite refreshing.

Hawks Nest Orchard Block 2007 ($25) is a blend of 62% Cabernet Franc and 38% Malbec.  Its a medium-bodied red with spicy oak, soft tannin, smooth vinosity and cedary pencil shaving characters - it has the Bordeaux right bank floral-like notes and gravelly allure with cherries coming forth on the smoky finish.

Wine tasting at Hawks Nest costs $2 a person, refundable on purchase of wine.

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

Last drink for wine pioneer

Esteemed Canterbury wine pioneer and renowned diabetes expert, Sir Don Beaven, died in a house fire in Akaroa yesterday.  Sir Don, who was knighted earlier this year, set up one of Canterbury's first vineyards of the modern era.  According to the book Canterbury Grapes & Wine, he was one of an enthusiastic group of wine lovers involved in the sensory evaluation of the early wines at Lincoln (now a University).   Together with Ivan Donaldson (who would go on to develop Pegasus Bay winery) and Graham Watson amongst others, they planted a vineyard known as the Doctors' Patch at the foot of the Port Hills on the south Side of Christchurch.   The trio wrote a book, WINE - A NEW ZEALAND PERSPECTIVE, published in 1988. Sir Don also wrote Wines for Dining in 1977, and co-authored Wine Care and Service with Danny Schuster in 1985.

His other passion outside wine and diabetes was olives and he co-authored Olives: the new passion: growing and using olives in New Zealand, in 1997.

Sir Don was a strong advocate of the benefits of wine in moderation and had been a wine judge for over 30 years.  Sir Don was 85.

The following news item covers more of his lauded medical career -

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

Just how big is Marlborough - Part 2

As vines keep marching south to the Marlborough District Council boundary and beyond, so they keep marching west up the Wairau Valley and fan out southwards from there to populate the tributaries of what Marlborough winegrowers call the Southern Valleys. There's the Brancott Valley, the Fairhall Valley and the Omaka Valley, for example, but much of the recent planting has been on the river terraces of the Waihopai Valley where the Waihopai River dissects an expansive alluvial plain. Now vines dominate the landscape either side. It looks extensive from an aerial shot but to visit in person, the plantings are simply unbelievable.

waihopai.jpg (96965 bytes)Two producers account for most of the recent plantings in this area - on the eastern side of the Waihopai is Marisco (formerly Waihopai River Estate), home of 'The Ned', while Winegrowers of Ara is on the western side. Both sites featured in the Marlborough Wine Weekend.

Winegrowers of Ara hosted the grand tastings of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir while the Marisco vineyard was where the marquee was set up alongside the Waihopai River for the Southern Valleys tasting and lunch.

Sauvignon Blanc was a feature of the Southern Valleys tasting and pineapple was a common thread in several of the wines.

Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - tropical fruit abounds in this juicy number - hints of pineapple and interestingly something I related to the first of the new season's strawberries (having been scoffing them the day before) with a touch of tarragon coming through. Gorgeous and interesting flavours.

Lawson Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - a lovely rounded yet zesty style. Vibrant with great fruit concentration and textural interest.

Ara Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - a juicy wine with powerful, ripe tropical fruit, a herbaceous undercurrent and a bright pineapple and citrus finish with classical pungency. A new label for Ara.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - bright tropical fruit, gooseberry, herbs and lots of zest with a long juicy finish and a touch of pineapple. It was served very cold and really suited the riverside setting.

Bouldevines Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - pineapple, summer herbs, cucumber and gooseberry with a touch of sweat then mandarin, tropical fruit and lime. Will be lovely chilled down in the summer heat.

Fairhall Downs Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - warm creamy style with richness from bottle age and lots of zest on the bright fruity finish.

Mahi Ballot Block Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - oak adds a spicy veneer and the creamy caramel of the wild yeasts and oak come through with nectarines on the finish and well balanced acidity.

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - showing characters derived from wild yeasts and barrel, this is a stunning example of the style with lots of bright yet creamy acidity, caramel and nectarine.

There were some delicious Pinot Noirs too - that's another blog entry

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

Just how big is Marlborough - Part 1

There's much more to Marlborough that meets the eye, as I found out when I attended the Marlborough Wine Weekend, this weekend just past. Millions of Sauvignon Blanc grapevines for sure because New Zealand is the second largest Sauvignon Blanc-producing country in the world after France and the majority of New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc grapevines are planted in Marlborough. But how do you define the Marlborough when it comes to the boundaries of the wine region? "Ever expanding," is what I'd say after visiting some of Marlborough's newest and biggest vineyards.

yealands.jpg (52623 bytes)Ten years ago, even two years ago, perhaps even two weeks ago, I can't imagine that I would have described a Marlborough vineyard as having a dramatic cliff top setting overlooking the South Pacific Ocean. But I can confidently say that now, having been there and seen it for myself. It was on the cliff edge where the marquee for the Awatere Valley tasting was sited in part of the ginormous Yealands Estate (pictured right). Here vines dominate the rolling landscape south of the Awatere River between State Highway One and the coast, as far south as Blind River. Cliffs tend to define boundaries and only a wire fence separated the safety of the cliff top and a death-defying drop to the black sand beach.

As the fresh air rolled in off the ocean, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were tasted - wine made from grapes sourced only from the Awatere. This part of Marlborough has more hectares of vines in the ground than the whole of the Hawkes Bay and planting extends from the hot, windy, coast to much cooler sites 40 kilometres inland up the river valley as the crow flies. Thus there was diversity in the Sauvignon Blanc styles, not only from sites but also from vine age.

The coastal Yealands Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was crisp, fresh and grassy with lots of juicy fruit and seemed a lighter style in contrast to inland-sourced powerful TWR Sauvignon Blanc 2009 with its rich fruit complexity. Vavasour Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008 comes from the oldest Awatere vineyard at Dashwood on the north side of the Awatere River and shows complexity that comes with a year of bottle age, those pea/been-like traits developing and underlying apple crispness. But the wine that was most striking from the Awatere tasting was Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - it was texturally sublime compared to the others in the room with a salty, ozone-like freshness, like the fresh air blowing in off the ocean. Not technically Awatere as Kekerengu is another 44 kilometres by road, south of Seddon, down State Highway One. Possibly even beyond the boundary, whenever the Marlborough boundary might be.

Current Blog
Previous Entries
Following Entries
Complete Blog Archive home

copyright Sue Courtney 2009