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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: December 2009
Dec 31st:Looking back on 2009 and Wines of the Year
Dec 24th: Planning the Christmas Feast
Dec 22nd: December Drinkies
Dec 21st: WOTW: Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Dec 16th: Decadent deserts with Zibibbo and Tickled Pink
Dec 15th: WOTW: Tickled Pink Rosé 2009
Dec 14th: Tickled Pink by a Stolen Kiss on the Glad Stone
Dec 13th: Offline for a while
Dec 12th: Wine unites us
Dec 10th: What really is in the bottle?
Dec 6th: Chardonnay Feast
Dec 5th: Rumours of the 70's
Dec 1st: Ernest Hemingway on wine
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 31st 2009

Looking back on 2009 and Wines of the Year

As 2009 draws to a close I cannot believe where the year has gone. But it is not only the end of the year. It is the end of the decade. Gosh, is it really 10 years since the impending doom of the Y2K disaster? It rained in Auckland on the 31st December 1999. We could not see the fireworks off the Sky Tower in the gloom. But the world went on as normal and more and more wine continued to be produced.

Vinously speaking it's been an interesting decade as well as an interesting year with exceptional seasons and seasons that some winegrowers would want to forget and, most importantly, New Zealand wine production has grown dramatically in that time. Just look at these statistics.

There were 334 producers at the end of June 1999 compared to 643 at the end of June 2009. 9,000 hectares of New Zealand land was under vine in 1999 with 31,057 hectares estimated under production in 2009. Sauvignon Blanc production went out of control with 2008 hectares in 1999 expanding to 14,735 hectares in 2009. Pinot Noir was the other big mover - 826 hectares in 1999 to 4,702 hectares in 2009. But what about tonnes of grapes crushed? 78,300 tonnes total in 1999 grew to 285,000 tonnes in 2009 with Sauvignon Blanc contributing a whopping 62 percent of that figure. That's a lot of Sauv.

We are still feeling the effects of Sauvignon Blanc overproduction from 2008 and many of that vintage's wines are still about. With rains coming halfway through the harvest that year, a plethora of 'new brands' appeared; wines made from grapes downgraded from well-known premium labels because the quality didn't make the grade. But the irony is that some of the 2008's, tasted 18 months after vintage, are proving to be delicious drinking this summer. Perhaps 2008 wasn't so bad after all?

Looking back over my vinous consumption this past year there are some absolute highlights and so the following wines are my 'Wines of the Year' and their close contenders.

Riesling of the Year: I was absolutely besotted by the Felton Road Block 1 Riesling 2009 - rated 20/20 at a tasting with the winemaker, but oh …. my … gosh, it was scintillating. I had to go and buy a bottle but I could only get one because of allocations.
Runners-up: Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Riesling 2008 - year after year this wine delivers and this 2008 vintage is sensational. It was tasted blind in a line-up and it was the one I most wanted to drink. And drink it, with a little bit of help from a friend, I did. A perfect 'beverage' wine - with just a touch of sweetness to balance the acidic edge. No food necessary.
Spy Valley Envoy Riesling 2007 - I liked this last year but had the opportunity to taste again and a bottle I was going to open on Christmas Day, but didn't, may get opened tonight. This is a Germanic spatlese style, just 9 percent alcohol, with moderate sweetness to balance the racy acidity.

Sauvignon Blanc of the Year: Easy choice here - Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - see the last Wine of the Week of the year. Lots of delicious Sauv tasted this year at the Marlborough Wine Weekend but I will single out the Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - I really did taste new season strawberries in this tangy expression.

Gewurztraminer of the Year: Now, this is a difficult one. Back in January I featured Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2007 as a Wine of the Week and in February we picked up a bottle of Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2008 made from ridiculously low crops, took it back to the motel and drank it. That was a Wine of the Week too. I love the Huntaway Reserve Limited Edition Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2007 too. But in the end it is the Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 that gets the nod for Gewurztraminer of the Year, just marginally ahead of intense Waimea Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008. Both simply beautiful with Thai-inspired flavours.

Pinot Gris of The Year: A contentious variety, some bland, some full of flavour. Top honour goes to Spy Valley Envoy Marlborough Pinot Gris 2007. Runners up were Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2009 and Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008.

Viognier of the Year: Villa Maria Omahu Gravels Viognier 2008. While I still have not tasted a New Zealand Viognier to rival Condrieu, we are slowly getting there. So I can't find these notes on my website (geez, Susan) but this fragrantly aromatic wine is bright, fresh and clean with spicy nuances and biscuity oak coming through with the brightness of apricot on the finish and just the right amount of vinous sweetness for its full-bodied presence.

Chardonnay of the Year: The new Church Road Tom Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 was launched in fine fashion, with food. I was besotted with this wine from the first sniff of the heavenly scent it emitted. Having tasted the Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2006 several times, and loved it more and more each time, I knew this wine, from two sensational components that winemaker Chris Scott had thought too good to blend away, would be sensational. And it was. No other contenders even come close.

Pinot Noir of the Year: With Pinot Noirs from the incredible 2007 vintage the most common this year, the quality is high. Very high. Martinborough is right back on form; Marlborough has proven that Pinot Noir grown there gives the region something more than Sauvignon Blanc to crow about and Central Otago Pinot Noirs simply sizzled. Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007, which I must have tasted about 20 times, is the most memorable from the southern region, while Martinborough and surrounding regions authoritatively stamped their quality - Martinborough Vineyards and Julicher (with the Julicher Estate 2008 as well as the 99 Rows 2008) in particular. But in the end it is the texturally sublime Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 that gets my nod for Pinot Noir of the Year.

Syrah of the Year: Waiheke Island comes out on top again with this year the Awaroa Melba Peach Syrah 2008 getting the tick for this category. There were some strong contenders including any one of Stonecroft's three Hawkes Bay Syrahs from the 2007 vintage, the Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2007 and Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007, which just gets better every time I taste it. Te Mata Woodthorpe Syrah 2007 also gets a mention as Best Buy Syrah of the Year.

Full-bodied Red of the Year: Wow, how can one go past the Esk Valley Winemakers Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2007? I can't. It was my favourite red at Wine NZ this year and now it's also my Red Wine of the Year.
2007 is going to be a vintage that goes down in history for full-bodied reds, particularly those from Hawkes Bay. Loved so many but those that come foremost to mind include Church Road Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007 and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot Cabernet 2007, any number of reds from Mills Reef. There were also some exceptional Waiheke reds from the 2008 vintage, Mudbrick Vineyard Waiheke Island Cabernet Merlot 2008 one of the most memorable.

Most fascinating tasting of the year: A vertical of Stonyridge Larose put on by a bunch of wine lovers - each attendee contributing a unique vintage, proved to those of us attending that this wine really is an icon amongst New Zealand red wines.

Best Value White Wine of the Year: Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2007

Best Value Red Wine of the Year: Vidal Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007

Red Wine Producer of the Year: Mills Reef Winery excels across all price points.

White Wine Producer of the Year: Church Road - wines include Chardonnay, Viognier and Late Harvest Semillon

Producer of the Year (across all varieties): Waimea Estate (Nelson, including second label Spinyback) - you name it, they do it with flair.

Best New Wine Label of the Year: Lobster Reef Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I've enjoyed drinking the wine too - both the 2008 and the 2009. It's made by Brown Family Vineyards, creators of Cape Campbell.

And lastly - Sue Courtney's Wine of the Year for 2009 is Church Road Tom Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006.

In summary, in this year of oversupply, all I can say is I'm glad I'm a wine drinker and not a wine producer.

31st December 2009 in Auckland has a forecast of clear skies and with a full moon rising, it will be a bright light night and will offer bright hopes for the year to come.

Happy New Year!

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

Planning the Christmas Feast

Christmas is a quiet family gathering for us. No pretensions. Just delicious food, fabulous wine, lots of games and probably the occasional argument.

We are starting our feast this year on Christmas Eve, not quite the Feast of Seven Fishes that we had four years ago - but the menu looks tempting nevertheless with Marlborough smoked salmon canapes, Port Waikato whitebait, Alaskan king crab, New Zealand scallops and New Zealand snapper fillets. White wines all the way - Chardonnay, Viognier and perhaps even a bubbly.

On Christmas Day my sisters will have an early morning swim and the three of us will go to Church while Neil gets to sleep in - or perhaps he will have breakfast cooked and ready for us on our return (hint, hint Neil if you read this). Then we start preparing for lunch.

We are planning to have ham and turkey, new Jersey Bennie potatoes (scrubbed, boiled and served with butter and chervil) and salads. I am contributing the potatoes, savoury eggs (because I love them) and a tomato, sulguni and basil salad. Sulguni is a Georgian cheese that's like mozzarella in texture and like haloumi in taste. I'm also contributing mini Pavlovas and a fresh fruit salad of strawberries, watermelon and peaches in a tangelo jus.

There's been more thought on the Christmas day wines.

To start
* Pol Roger Vintage 1998 (Champion Sparkling at the Nz International two years ago)

Then to accompany the main course
* Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 (Overall Champion at Easter Show 2009)
* Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 (if I can find it) otherwise Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 (Overall Champion at the Air NZ Wine Awards)

Then for dessert
* Johanneshof Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2007 (Champion Sweet Wine at the NZ International Wine Show) although I did found a Mission Jewelstone 1994 Botrytised Riesling when I cleaned out the fridge yesterday. Perhaps we'll open this and have the Johanneshof as a backup.

Then for later, much later
* Spy Valley Envoy Riesling 2007 - this along with Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2008 is my joint runner-up for Riesling of the Year. My Riesling of the Year was the Felton Road Block 1 Riesling 2009, but I've only got one bottle and I don't want to open it yet.

On the day after Boxing Day we are feasting with my brother and his clan and while I don't know what food I am contributing at this stage, I do know the wines. These are value packed wines that deliver quality way above their price points,
* Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2007 - my Chardonnay Buy of the Year
* Vidal Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 - my Pinot Noir Buy of the Year
* Sea Level Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - although I find it too powerful, it's darn good wine and the savvy lovers in the family will absolutely love it.

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

December Drinkies

It's that time of year where shopping and socialising take priority over blogging. Still, there's time to taste wine. And it's nice to be able to taste the wines and contribute the leftovers to parties and work dinners - it means someone else can recycle the bottles when they are emptied. But at one party it was interesting to see how people who normally drink cask wine received the wines. Most people bee-lined for the cheaper labels, the labels they recognised from the supermarkets and one $7.99 bottle of wine we had won on a car rally was the first to be emptied. The more expensive and unfamiliar labels were languishing. Here are some of those wines.

Passage Rock Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2008 ($19) - Took this to hubby's Thai work dinner and it went down a treat. Smart cookies, my hubby's colleagues. Delicately perfumed but distinctly varietal with a spritzy tingle from the ginger and exotic spice flavours. A moderately dry, medium-boded style, excellent with the food.

Mills Reef Hawkes Bay Riesling 2009 ($17.95) - From a vineyard in Meeanee near the coast, I wonder if it is the same vineyard that Esk Valley used to source fruit from before they forsake Hawkes Bay Riesling for Marlborough. No one touched it at the dinner so we took it to my sister's place the next day and enjoyed it immensely. Citrus zest and honey suckle combine in this tangy fresh wine that's off dry to the taste with a juicy finish that is long and balanced.

Wild South Marlborough Chardonnay 2008 ($18.90) - A fresh, summery style with tropical fruit and citrus aromas and flavours over a creamy texture with a nutty influence and spicy oak playing a warm but subtle role in the background.

Taylors South Australia Chardonnay 2007 ($17.99 list price but often on special) - Toasty oak, grapefruit and nutty aromas and plenty of oak flavours too with a warm creamy texture, bright acidity and hints of salted pineapple. Quenching on a hot day.

Montana Gisborne Chardonnay 2008 ($17.95 list price but can be as low as $9.99 on special) - Light, fresh, fruity flavour of lime sherbet and a fizzy fruit lollies. Bright, fresh, zesty and summery - and to be consumed on such carefree days.

Soljans Fusion Sparkling Rosé ($17.90) - Made from a blend of Muscat and Pinotage grapes from Gisborne, the colour starts the strawberry theme that carries through on the nose and in the palate. It's slightly sweetish but there's an underlying savouriness and served chilled straight from the fridge on a stinking hot humid day, it really hits the spot. Great with spicy food too.

Huntaway Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($22.95) - A blend of Gisborne and Hawkes Bay fruit, this deep purple red is oaky and cedary with a hint of mint and other herbal nuances on the nose and in the palate where sweet vanillin oak and cassis flavours come into play. A powerful tasty wine good with steak but needs food to tame the underlying acidity.

Mills Reef Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet 2007 ($24.95) - I am astounded at the quality every time I taste a Mills Reef red and this is no exception, delivering well above its price point. Bright in hue, full of ripe with supported by creamy oak and firm velvety tannins with red liquorice and spice coming through. Perfect with BBQ'd lamb.

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

WOTW: Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009

When I tasted the Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009 at the Marlborough Wine Weekend at the end of October, I thought it was sensational.

It could have been the setting on the edge of a precipitous cliff edge with the salty breeze blowing in off the sea that gave the wine an ozone-like freshness. It could have been the marquee with the smell of drying out grass inside the marquee. Or it could have been the wine itself.

I was retasting the wine now because I had a bottle and I wanted to see how it would match to food, specifically a tomato and basil flan.  Click here to read the rest of this review.

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

Decadent desserts with Zibibbo and Tickled Pink

The other day I went to elevenses and the wine served was Zibibbo, a sparkling wine from Australian wine company Brown Brothers made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes. )It's a terrific wine for elevenses because it is low alcohol (just 6.5 per cent) and the natural Muscat grape flavours are balanced by a spicy, citrussy zest. The bubbles add life and freshness and as the bubbles explode in the mouth, it makes this sweetie seem much drier. An array of tasting plates were offered and it proved that Zibibbo is a versatile wine, one you could have for breakfast or brunch as well as for dessert

I particularly like a duck pate served with Muscat raisins that had been macerated in Zibibbo, and a rock melon infused with Zibibbo and served with a three citrus marmalade. There was also a haloumi sandwich, two slices of deliciously salty cheese sandwiching a Muscat paste. But it was the Eton Mess with Lemon Curd and Passionfruit that really showed the versatility of the wine. A meringue was broken into a glass that doubled as a serving dish and layered with whipped cream, lemon curd and passionfruit pulp then drizzled with Zibibbo. Oh my gosh, delicious.

This gave me the idea for the strawberry and pav concoction to go with this week's Wine of the Week, Tickled Pink. We saved some wine from the weekend just to try it out. The ingredients are Pavlova (or meringue), whipped cream, Tickled Pink wine and strawberries. If you can't be bothered making them, you can now buy mini pavlovas from the supermarket bakery and these are ideal for single serves, although you probably need to allow for seconds.
Chop up and macerate some of those delicious 'big red' strawberries (they're everywhere at the moment), in a little of the Tickled Pink.  You can crush the pav, if you wish, or just prick the top of the pav with a fork, then spoon over the strawberries and some of the macerating wine, top with freshly whipped cream and more of the strawberries. And if you don't have strawberries, there's enough strawberry flavour in the Tickled Pink to add the effect anyway. It works and it's delicious. We had second and accompanied with what was left of the wine.   But sadly we've now finished the bottle.

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

WOTW: Tickled Pink Rosé 2009

"Have you ever tasted a sweet Rosé," asked Steve Farquharson, proprietor of Wooing Tree Vineyard in Central Otago. "I'm not sure if anyone else does one," he added.  

It's a little sweet pink, little because it comes in a 375ml bottle and is beautiful both in name, appearance and taste. It's a baby pink-coloured dessert Rosé delightfully called Tickled Pink and because it is a dessert wine, that is how it should be approached. After tasting it I can't think of a better accompaniment than Pavlova and strawberries. What could be more perfect on Christmas Day, or the day after or the day after that - or anytime really? It's this week's Wine of the Week.  Click here to read the review.

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

Tickled Pink by a Stolen Kiss on the Glad Stone

A tasting of an octet of pink wines in the warm outdoors of early Sunday evening saw some real stars including a purposely made sweet Rosé delightfully called Tickled Pink, but with the more traditional styles, it was a North Island wine and a South Island wine that were vying for top honours. In the end I chose the North Island wine, although I didn't know that until the wine was revealed. It was Gladstone Wairarapa Rosé 2009 made from primarily Cabernet Franc with the addition of Merlot and Malbec, which affirms my previous thoughts that Cabernet Franc could quite possibly be the best variety to make pink wines out of. The other was the provocatively named Rockburn Stolen Kiss 2009, made from Central Otago Pinot Noir.

Also in contention were Muddy Water Growers Series Waipara Rosé 2009, Wooing Tree Central Otago Rosé 2009 and Te Mania Nelson Rosé 2009 all made from Pinot Noir.

What do you match to pink wines? That question is always a head scratcher. I served chicken kebabs marinated in a plum and mild chilli sauce and cooked on the barbecue, accompanied with a salsa made from watermelon, strawberries and pomegranate seeds and garnished with freshly picked rocket. Remarkably, this worked with most of the wines - the mild spiciness of the meat, the berries accenting similar flavours in the wines and the peppery bite of the rocket a contrast. A lovely summery dish that I would happily serve to guests.

We followed up with a mince dish  - my version had coriander, cumin and cinnamon spices added in the early stages and was finished off with thinly sliced mushroom added at the end when the heat was turned off, and a large handful of fresh coriander. The meat had a sweetness to it and the wines that worked best were the drier, fuller-bodied styles, specifically Gladstone, Te Mania, Muddy Water and Wooing Tree.

These are my brief notes.

Gladstone Vineyard Rose 2009 - Salmon pink. Red berry aromas and flavours with a squeeze of mandarin and a touch of spice. Long full finish. Dry.

Rockburn Stolen Kiss Central Otago Rose 2009 - Baby pink. Earthy nuances to the cherry and plum fruit. Spicy, zesty and crisp with fresh acidity.

Muddy Water Growers Series Waipara rose 2009 - Light ruby pink, savoury with dark fruit, fuller bodied style with a little bit of grip from the tannins.

Wooing Tree Central Otago Rose 2009 - Pale pink. Truffle-like scents, wild strawberry and bitter cherry fruit and underlying sweetness.

Te Mania Nelson Pinot Noir Rose 2009 - Deep watermelon hue. Earthy savoury style with wild strawberry, herbs and a salty tang to the finish.

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

Offline for a while

Dear Telecom, I think you should be able to do better than a 48 hour estimation of getting a problem fixed when the WHOLE AREA has lost their phone lines and thus their Internet access too. It's just not good enough.

And dear Telstra Clear, I think you should be able to tell your customers there is a problem, even if you are 'only the provider'.  Why do I need to wait 20 minutes listening to music only to have you tell me yes, there is indeed a fault on MY line, and a technician will call in 24 to 48 WORKING DAY hours (ie not on Sundays), especially when the fault is wider spread than that.  Can't you tell your customers at the beginning that such and such area is affected, instead of saying 'there are no faults to report'.

So where can you get free Wifi Internet access in Auckland?  Well, I'm going to my sisters (seven kilometres away), because I don't have the Internet at home to find out.

At least the rest of the day, a beautiful summer's day in Auckland has been a diversion and I've some beautiful looking Rosés in the fridge waiting for tasting on my return.

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

Wine unites us

"Water separates the people of the world but wine unites them"

I've no idea who wrote this quote but it seems a very appropriate quote for me to use right now as I've just met up with American author Tom Mullen who is tripping around the world to meet people involved in wine. He originally found me right here, on my blog. Wine united us.

Tom was passing through Auckland city, on the way to Waiheke Island for a few days, and because it was a Wednesday I suggested if he didn't have anything better to do that evening, he join us (ie me and Neil) at our regular Wednesday wine tasting.

But first we had dinner.

The Sentinel tower is right opposite First Glass in Takapuna on Auckland's North Shore. This is the building where the penthouse, according to rumour, has been booked out by the 'America's Next Top Model' crew for the next few weeks. On the ground floor level there are a few restaurants, although it seems not many people have discovered them yet.

We decided to dine at Buffalo Bar and Grill, seeing the Japanese restaurant next door was not licensed, even for BYO, and a glass of wine over dinner is really mandatory when wine has united us.

We chose our meals, then the wines to match. For Tom's salmon it was Deutz Marlborough Cuvée, suitably packaged in a 200ml bottle. For my mushroom and spinach cannelloni it was a glass of Triplebank Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 and for Neil's' pork spare ribs, it was Amstel. The most remarkable thing about the drinks was the glassware, a V-shaped flute for the bubbles and a big bowl for my generous pour of pinot noir. My wine and food match was perfect.

The Wednesday tasting was good one and started in fine form with Nobilo Methode Traditionelle 2005, a New Zealand cuvée that, dare I say it, reminded me a little of the Champagne Lanvin we had a few weeks ago, and then the deep, rich Tattinger Brut Reserve NV. Tom had his first blind taste of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and it was a good one, the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 1 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009, the trophy winning Sauvignon from the NZ International Wine Show. That was followed by the delicious Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009, a personal favourite of mine. Another highlight was the Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 - a gorgeous Chardonnay if you like this style. Thirteen wines tasted in all, a good night at First Glass and good company too.

Check out all the tasting notes on my Wednesday Tastings page and I'll keep you updated on the progress of Tom's book towards the latter part of next year.

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

What really is in the bottle?

Do you receive emails with sometimes "too good to be true" deals on wines with brand names you have never heard of before. The email claims it is exactly the same wine that, under its original label, won x amount of gold medals and perhaps even a trophy. The promoter of this 'unbelievable special' has been sworn to secrecy and can't divulge what it was labelled as when it won those accolades but ensures that if you bought it with its original label it would cost you three times the price. With its new branding, it's a bargain.

But how do we know if those claims are actually true? I also wonder if the original label and the newly branded wine were tasted side by side, would they taste the same?

A while back I received a sample bottle of a Sauvignon Blanc that came with no tech notes, no price and no indication of where it was available in retail, so it languished at the bottom of my tasting pile. Recently, when the benefactor of that wine asked me if I had tasted it, I learnt it was a label created for a supermarket chain and that it was the same wine as a prominent winewriter's wine of the year. The vintage was 2008, the year that new brands flooded the low price point market, particularly Sauvignon Blanc made from juice surplus to a winemaker's requirement or juice not good enough to be bottled under their winemaker's primary brand. The bottles tell you nothing about the vineyard, the winemaker or the winemaking process and have no physical address, only a box number. A website may be mentioned but you learn little more.

The other night I decided it was time to taste this sample and so it was put amongst six Sauv Blancs, three from 2008 and three from 2009, served in random order and tasted blind. Um, what can I say other than to say this was my least preferred wine by a long way. I wrote, "a dull and astringent wine that would not get an award in a wine show but you would be quite happy if you paid $8.99 a bottle in the supermarket and didn't really care about the quality of wine you drank. The label and branding is attractive, though".

I wondered if it was the same wine, as alluded to by the distributor, or perhaps made by the same winemaker but from a different tank or batch. (Remember the Wither Hills debacle over a wine with bottles that the label indicated was the same but it was proved that some batches were not identical.) Or perhaps the wine had just fallen over.

So I'm sticking to recommending wines that I like and wines that I do know the provenance of. Like my top wine of that tasting, Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (which was Neil's runner-up) and my runner-up, Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (which was Neil's top wine) and a surprise inclusion, Nederburg Winemakers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from South Africa.

Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is typically Marlborough with a capsicum and orange blossom aroma and lashing of juicy tangelo-like citrus with a light honeyed/glycerol feel to the texture, bright summer herbs flavour and pungency to the finish. It was delicious with chicken cooked in tangelo, lime, coriander and coconut.

Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009, with its gorgeous packaging reflecting the indigenous culture of New Zealand, is another zesty, tangy number with herbs and citrus on the nose and a sweaty undercurrent to the tropical fruit flavours that hint of passionfruit and pineapple. It has that 'afterkick' and 30 seconds after you swallow it there's another explosion of tangelo, honey and coriander. Good wine, but I rated it No, 2 because of its power.

Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is from Paarl in the Coastal Region in South Africa but is available in New Zealand. There's a softness to the wine and I wonder if it has some oak and while it's initially quite flinty and the flavours are a little restrained, it fleshes out nicely and the finish is bright and tangy with a stonefruit richness.

Sometimes it's best to stick the old brands you can trust or new brands that come with a sense of place.

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

Chardonnay Feast

It was Chardonnay night this week's Wednesday tasting and some fantastic wines were opened, including Church Road Tom Chardonnay 2006 ($70), which I raved about in a Wine of the Week review a few weeks ago. Among the line-up was Villa Maria Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2007 ($30), the Champion Chardonnay at the recent Air NZ Wine awards and West Brook Blue Ridge Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 ($20), which was one of my personal favourites from my tasting of the NZ International Wine Show gold medal Chardonnay winners. But it was Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2007, at just $13.99 on special, that was my Wine of the Night, after the sensational Tom, of course. The Thornbury reeks of quality above its price point and as this label is owned by Villa Maria, it's quite possible that the fruit came off the same vineyard as the Air NZ Champion Chardonnay.  2007 was one of the great Chardonnay seasons in Gisborne so it was a no-brainer to me to buy six bottles of the delicious Thornbury to share with friends and family over the festive season.  Click here to read those Chardonnay reviews

On Friday night, at home, we opened a few more Chardonnays to taste, and funny that they were all from Nelson. I still think Nelson is one of the most underrated regions for Chardonnay and look out for some stunners from the 2008 vintage, because three of these four terrific wines were from 2008.

Te Mania Nelson Chardonnay 2008 - ripe fruit absolutely brims through this light gold wine - there's pineapple, peach, rock melon and citrus with a nutty undercurrent and a subtle savoury oak backbone. A well balanced, juicy fresh drink with lots of appeal. $20.

Te Mania Reserve Nelson Chardonnay 2008 - the oak is much more restrained than in previous versions of the 'Reserve' and personally I like the oak regime in this one - it has impact without overpowering. It is rich (but not overly rich), mealy, savoury and nutty with that fruit seen in the estate wine trying to escape. Later I detect grilled stonefruit, very subtle pineapple, figs and even a suggestion of coconut. $28.

Kina Beach Reserve nelson Chardonnay 2007 - this is a wine with a hedonistic texture to support the delicious fruit and mealy, yeast-derived flavours. Grapefruit is the key fruit character supported by fleshy nectarine while caramel wells up from within and lingers gorgeously on the finish. Rich, savoury and malty. $30.

Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2008 - a savoury, nutty wine, slightly oily, or perhaps glycerolic in texture and a deep, creamed nut flavour with tropical fruit, pineapple, apricot and biscuit and a peachy character to the finish. A sensational wine already and makes you wonder just how good Neudorf's top tier 'Moutere' will be. $29.

Then, when catching up with old friends for a long-awaited get-together last night, the Chardonnay week was finished in fine fashion when a bottle of Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2002 appeared on the dinner table. Although deep gold in colour, it was seemed much younger than the vintage year would suggest and if you hadn't read the label and noticed the omission of the yellow tamper-evident strip on the capsule, you could well have thought you were drinking a Moutere.

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

Rumours of the 70's

Going out on the town and drinking wine in a licensed bar or restaurant is a lot different to tasting and enjoying wine in your own home or at a friend's place. One thing to consider is that it costs a lot more to go out on the town and pay for the privilege of having others serve you, wait on you, wipe down the tables and wash the glasses afterwards. Another thing to consider is the drinking and driving. Do you drink and pay a taxi, do you drive into town, pay a fortune for parking and watch what you drink or then dial up Dial A Driver if you end up fuzzy headed? So it's nice to go out on the town once in a while but these days it's something we don't do often.

We went out on the town the other night after being invited by a friend who plays in a band that was popular in the 1970's, to the launch of the band's remastered works on CD. It was held in a bar in town, an underground bar with a low ceiling, like the bars were in the seventies era. Bars with jail cell-like windows near the ceiling on the footpath side where you could see the ankles and shoes of the people who walked by. The room was dark and there were couches in the corners and most of the lighting came from the bar. The band had catered their own food - chips and onion dip, nuts and other nibbles popular in the 70's but the drinks were definitely 21st century - there was no Cold Duck, Barossa Pearl, Cresta Dore or Bakano to be seen at all. In fact the wine list was pretty smart.

I ordered a glass of 2003 Kerpen Riesling from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer in Germany. It's the nearest I could get to the 70's wine when Blue Nun and Deinhard's Green Label were popular, and was available by the glass at alittle over $10 for a 150ml pour. I'd say it probably was a Kabinett, but the wine was a little tired (it was not poured from a new bottle) and the chips and dip that I was scoffing made it taste like flat ginger ale.

Something else was needed and surprisingly one of the cheapest wines on the extensive wine list was Yalumba Eden Valley Viogner (vintage not known but either 2007 or 2008). The price has come down drastically in retail and this is reflected on the wine list, in fact it was of the few wines under $10 a glass. This wine was bright and tangy with lots of apricot and nut flavours and winemaking panache, oak playing a subtle supporting role and letting the fruit sing.

Now this is a wine I would order again and I would have if we had stayed. But we had heard the band play their hits - like this one. It was mid week, work the next day and our (and the bands) stamina wasn't like it was like in the 1970's. Oh, the bar was Chambers.  Nice place to go with a good selection of wines by the glass and plenty of other drinks too.

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

Ernest Hemingway on wine

I'm in a Hemingway phase of my life right now, reading his books and memoirs as well as biographies. 'A Moveable Feast' is a memoir of his life in Paris from 1921 to 1926 although it wasn't until 1957 that he started writing this book in spurts. It was revised and completed in 1960, one year before his death, and first published in 1964.

Hemingway sums up wine, drinking and his ignorance of alcoholism in his Scott Fitzgerald friendship years.

"In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer. I loved all wines except sweet or sweetish wines and wines that were too heavy, and it never occurred to me that sharing a few bottles of fairly light, dry, white Mâcon could chase chemical changes in Scott that would turn him into a fool. There had been the whisky and Perrier in the morning but, in my ignorance of alcoholics then, I could not imagine one whisky harming anyone who was driving in an open car in the rain. The alcohol should have been oxidized in a very short time. "

Another quote of Hemingway's that I'm going to look forward to using in a tasting note some time is "This was Brett that I had felt like crying about." It comes from the "The Sun also Rises", a book on my 'to read' list, although I doubt we were talking about the same doomed Brett.

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