Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sommelier Sensations


“I’m off to Craggy to have dinner with some Master Sommeliers so you’ll have to cook tea” I told my husband last Monday night. “Smelliers? Aren’t they like people who sniff things for a living?” he asked, scratching his head and staring vacantly into the fridge. “No” I offered sweetly, “they’re highly skilled wine service professionals who’re also experts in wine procurement, wine storage, wine cellar rotation, and … (noting his eyes glazing over as I grabbed the car keys off the bench) yes honey, they smell stuff for a living”.
Craggy Range is a member of the Family of Twelve, a group of likeminded wine producers who decided that the best way to get their many and varied stories across is to have overseas wine professionals experience New Zealand themselves. “With this in mind we’ve established a programme that’ll see us investing in bringing key influential people from many markets down to NZ where they’ll receive a guided tour with experienced and well-recognised winemakers in all the quality regions of NZ” says Michael Henley of Craggy Range, “from Kumeu River in the North to Felton Road in Central Otago. We believe that by doing this we will create ambassadors for the quality wines of New Zealand”.

The first such sponsored trip focused on three shiny, young, rising-star sommeliers from the USA, who were accompanied by New Zealand’s own and only Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas.
As Megan Yelanowski, (Wine and Beverage Manager at the San Diago Bayfront Hilton and the first woman in San Diego to obtain her Advanced Level in the Court of Master Sommeliers); Hristo Zisovski, (Head Sommelier for Jean George restaurant in New York also a qualified ‘Advanced Sommelier’) and Geoff Kruth, (Master Sommelier and Director of Operations for the Guild of Sommeliers) tasted their way through some sensational wine and food they talked openly about their ambition and total devotion to their chosen career path.
“This is something we need to get across to young people in New Zealand” said Cameron, “that the role of a Professional Sommelier is a very real career option within the hospitality industry” and went on to explain the fantastic mentoring and training resources available here for anyone interested in furthering their skills to international standard.
In the US young people wanting a career in wine service are encouraged, respected by their employers and customers alike and, well paid.
Sadly while most kiwi restaurateurs know there’s excellent money to be made in wine sales, and to get those sales you need to train, employ and retain skilled wine staff, many still don’t understand that twelve bucks an hour is an insult, not an incentive.
For info on getting ahead in the wine service business email Cameron Douglas MS at



Premium organic chocolate makers Green & Black’s decided to team up with yours truly to bring the latest food and wine matching sensation to the Harvest Hawke’s Bay Festival. Wine and chocolate matching is huge overseas but I couldn’t think of anything more gag-inducing. That was until I actually took part in a wine and chocolate matching workshop in Auckland last year, and it is with much joy and jubilation that I can now happily concede that I was wrong and that there are some fabulous combos that’ll definitely get you salivating your socks off. We’ll be sampling delicate white chocolate through to Green & Black’s new, squint-inducingly dry 85% Dark chocolate. And put your airs and graces aside because it’s all about getting our fingers sticky, spitting and generally making a bit of a mess together – all in the best possible taste of course. To book your place call 0800 44 294 630, register at 

Ola! To Sophie Cotter and her Spanish importing company St Vincent’s Cave who specialise in supplying high quality Spanish wines, beers and beverages. One of my favourites is the Vins Padro Sangria $16.95. It’s clean, super-fresh and far better than any sangria I’ve ever cobbled together myself. Only high-quality 100% Tempranillo wine is used to make it according to Sophie; no orange juice or spirits are added, only natural Mediterranean fruit extracts. “This way the Sangría conserves the colour, aromas, structure and flavour of the wine intact as opposed to camouflaging a cheap wine with spirits and excessive sugar” she says. Sophie suggests serving it over ice with a slice each of lemon & orange, “it's much nicer than adding soda water or anything to it”.

They’re also bringing in the marvellous Moritz beer, brewed by Cervesas Moritz from the spring waters of the Montseny Mountains of Catalonia and using hops from Saaz. Founded by Alsatian brewmaster Louis Moritz in 1856 the recipe is largely unchanged since. Beautifully malty with hints of caramel and fig on the nose this beer is full-flavoured and Moorish with an incredibly refreshing, tangy length of flavour. To find a stockist near you visit or call Sophie on 07 839 0414.

Speaking of Spanish, Scenic Cellars in Taupo are holding the 2010 version of their legendary Spanish Fiesta Cellar Dinner on Saturday March 13th. $130 per ticket includes at least 3 courses of fabulous food, all wine and superb entertainment, but I’ve been told half the tickets have already gone so be quick – ring 07 378 5704 or visit to book.

Four of the Best
Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Central Otago Riesling 2009 $26 (four stars)
Crisp, tangy granny smith apple, beeswax and limey notes burst out of the glass followed by ripe citrus flavours, clean, mineral-driven texture and solid, lovely length of flavour. Contact for stockists.

Brennan Gibbston Pinot Noir 2007 $40 (four and a half stars)
Seductive, exotic aromas of black tea, plum and spiced cherries lead to a warm, meaty, muscular explosion of flavour in the mouth and rich, juicy length of flavour. A big wine from a small producer who’s clearly capable of great things.
Visit for more info.

Matakana Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $22
(four stars)  Leafy and limey on the nose with some intriguing aromas of anise, preserved lemon and passionfruit. A tiny portion is left to rest on its lees in older French oak which, if you can tear the wine away from your nose adds some rich, creamy, tropical complexity of flavour. Available only in fine wine stores and selected restaurants.

Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2008 $20 (five stars)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…first the aromas of coconut husk, baked prune and molasses made me swoon. The smooth yet spicy, muscular, cocoa-laden loveliness took me over the moon; and the deliciously warming mouthfeel and sexy length of flavour all for only $20 made me feel like a lucky dish who’d just run away with a very expensive spoon. Widely available and superlative value for money indeed.


Hand’s up who thinks it’s a good idea to produce scratch ‘n’ sniff wine stamps. Neil Pendock, a South African wine commentator definitely thinks so. According to his blog, the Germans just released a series of fruity stamps and the Brazilians had coffee-scented ones a few years back - so Neil thinks wine producers should get on the bandwagon. Perhaps NZ Post could work with NZ Winegrowers to produce a stamp perfumed with pinot noir, or to educate those still clinging to the romance of the traditional closure, an ‘identifying cork taint’ stamp infused with the aroma of rotting cardboard - ahh yes, the possibilities are endless.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Myths about Wine

There are many myths (urban and otherwise) out there about wine. But perhaps the one that sticks in my mind more than most is the one my mother told me when I was young. ‘‘Yvonne, there’s nothing cool or grown-up about drinking too much,’’ she said. Actually, that happens to be true, but at 15 it sounded like the biggest crock I’d ever heard. After busting me so many times for taking sneaky sips from her treasured box of Blenheimer when I was a teen, it’s no surprise she still finds it hard to believe that nowadays I actually get paid to drink. But I digress. The myths are still out there and my mother still drinks Blenheimer; but at least I can correct the myths.
Myth number 1 Uncorking a bottle for a few hours before drinking to ‘‘let it breathe’’ will improve and soften the wine. This is bog-standard bollocks because of the small surface area of the wine exposed to air. It’s a bit like expecting a weary backpacker to feel zippy and refreshed nearing the end of a 12-hourbus ride up the Khyber simply because the driver decides to open his air vent. To really let the wine breathe you need to decant it, slosh it around a bit and let it stretch its legs.
Which brings me to myth number 2. That the ‘‘legs’’, ‘‘tears’’ or ‘‘churchwindows’’ inside a glass of wine that’s been swirled indicate thatit’s a high quality wine. All it actuallyshows is that the wine may contain sturdy amounts of alcohol. Despite this being very important to some sippers, it doesn’t really detail whether the wine is going tobe delicious or dishwater.

Speaking of quality, myth number 3 says that smelling the cork will tell you if a wine’sworth drinking. The waiter or sommelier at a restaurant might hand you the cork so you can check to see if there is mould or if the cork is broken. But sniffing it won’t tell you if the wine is faulty or not, it will just announce to everyone else that you’re a ponce. A wine is ‘‘corked’’ when it smells like damp cardboard or a mouldy sack.Thanks to screw caps, these days fewer wines end up being spoiled. But trust some zealously politically correct Californians to be complete spoilsports.

An award-winning adaptation of LittleRed Riding Hood was withdrawn from a recommended reading list by a schoolboard in Culver City, simply because the heroine had included a bottle of wine in thebasket she brought to her grandmother. Only in America.

Political correctness aside, in New Zealand we’re told that drinking and driving is extremely naughty. But that’s a myth if you reside in Uruguay because apparently over there‘‘intoxication’’ is a legal excuse for having a prang in your car. Just imagine. ‘‘Officer I honestly don’t know what happened? One minute I was having my tenth tequila layback and the next minute I’m in my car, wrapped around this tree.’’ ‘‘I completely understand sir, here’s a note for your insurance company. You take care now.’’

Believe it or not one thing I know is true is that I still can’t tell what day of the week it is. Don’t you just love January? Now I’m off to go crank up the barbecue and pop my merlot in the microwave to burn off all those harsh tannins. What? Everybody does it . . .
Matua Paretai Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $23★★★★1/2
Tangy tomato-stalk,lip-smacking lime and steely, mineral-driven flavours make Matua’s flagship sauvignon rather fantastic for any occasion; but it’s particularly fabulous with fresh-caught,beer-battered gurnard and crunchy salad. Ask for it at your local wine shop or visit for stockists.

Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2007 $35 ★★★★★
With more medals on its front than Col.Gaddafi’s best jacket and so golden in the glass it could pass for liquid yellow diamonds. This is stunning stuff from theBay of Islands, scentedwith grapefruit,toasted almonds, preserved lemon andpeach; it also oozesripe nectarine and juicy tropical characters on the palate. The finish is long and luxurious and chardonnay lovers should get their skates on because only small amounts were made. Order now from

Bellbird Spring Block8 Pinot Gris 2009 $30★★★★★
If you’d asked me a couple of years ago whether I’d part with thirty bucks for a bottle of pinot gris I’dhave questioned your sanity. But those werethe bad old days before the likes of Bellbird Spring and their addictively good gris. Subtle pear, jazz apple,lychee and soft spiceson the nose but in the mouth it bursts with opulent, oily tropical juiciness. Big, sweet, sensational bang for your buck—visit

Vin Alto Fizzante NV $24★★★
Sometimes the oddest combinations work wonders and that’s why it didn’t surprise me that this fizz from Clevedon ended up as the perfect partner for our summer calamari, fennel and chickpea salad.
I have no idea what this wine’s madefrom, but it’s a limited edition, Italian-style sparkling wine that’slight and tangy with a citrus edge and a hint of spritz.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Down on the Farm

It’s not everyday you get to try a trophy-winning wine down at your local farmers market, but for visitors to the Hastings Farmers Market (held every Sunday morning) that’s all about to change. You see the Trophy for Best Dessert Wine at the 2009 Air New Zealand Awards went to Farmgate Wines (regular farmer’s market fixtures) for their Noble Harvest Riesling 2007,
FARMGATE winemaker and poetry fan, Peter Gough, has long had a penchant for making dessert wine.
“I love Keats description of Autumn” Peter says “as the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness.”
It’s those autumn mists in our Riesling vineyard that encourage the botrytis infection
(or noble rot) which is the start of the process of producing a dessert wine.”

At a hip-swelling 280g/l of residual sugar Peter describe’s Farmgate Noble Harvest Riesling 2007 as being “…decadent with aromas of apricot, honey and marmalade – a rich unctuous palate
with stonefruit, orange and mandarin – balanced with a pineappley acid cut.” So if you’re planning a stay in the ‘Bay make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to taste before it’s all gone.

Everyone’s a Winner

Occasionally I receive press releases that don’t actually make me want to scoop my own eyeballs out with a spoon and this is one of them.
Early Learning Centre Country Kids, in the Moutere Valley and Tasman School near Nelson have both been presented with donations by Blackenbrook Vineyard after a successful first-time fund-raising initiative.
Parents and staff at Country Kids and Tasman School were able to buy heavily reduced bottles of Blackenbrook wine with proceeds going back into the daycare and school. Co-owner of Blackenbrook, Ursula Schwarzenbach says as her children have both been to Country Kids and her son now goes to Tasman, they were delighted to be able to give something back.
“It’s not easy for these places to raise funds, so as a local business we were happy to help out. We also like the fact that we get the chance to thank the people who buy local wine by donating back to help our community’s children,” she says. Country Kids Manager Nickie Hodgkinson says the wine idea was a winner.
“It was hugely popular with parents and staff alike. It was just such easy fundraising and we’re really thrilled that Blackenbrook came up with the idea and were prepared to donate these funds. The money raised will be spent on new bulldozers for the sandpit,” she says. Schwarzenbach says the concept was so successful they’ll definitely look at doing it again in the future.
I love the idea that buying wine might help put more bulldozers in sandpits, as well as encouraging more New Zealanders to buy wine locally, and I hope more wineries give this idea some thought. To find out more about how it was done, contact Blackenbrook at

Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato $13

This recently picked up the Trophy for Best Apéritif-Style Australian Sparkling Wine at the Sydney International Wine Competition and also scooped Top 100 status and a Blue-Gold medal – but shiny medals aside, this is one fabulous little fizz with summer written all over it. It’s compulsory to serve it super-cold to enjoy the delicious tropical pineapple and peach flavours and crisp, spritzy acidity. Light but so lovely. Widely available.
Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $35
Marlborough’s big guns just keep firing from the 2009 sauvignon blanc vintage, and Saint Clair have proved once again that their flagship, the Wairau Reserve is no short-range missile. Boasting pungent aromas of white-flesh nectarine, passionfruit, lemon-verbena and lawn clippings followed by a heart-stopping burst of classic gooseberry, pineapple and lime-laden lusciousness on the palate. Stunning stuff that can be found in good wine stores or via
Montana ‘P’ Patutahi Gewurztraminer 2008 $36
This is one of my favourite gewürztraminers because it’s always so fresh, exotically spicy, floral and fabulous. In the 2008 version expect dense concentration of lychee, rose petal, guava and citrus flavours, bold complexity and beautiful length on the finish. Find it in good wine stores nationwide.
Full Circle Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $16
The latest offering from green-guru’s Yealands Estate is grassy and classy but definitely not glassy. Locked inside this lightweight plastic squeezy bottle is a lean, limey, fresh and frisky sauvignon which carries some classic capsicum and herbal characters to round out all that citrus. It might be certified carbon-zero but it’s definitely full-emission where flavour’s concerned. Find it at wine stores and supermarkets everywhere. To find out more visit
The Ned Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $18
Don’t be fooled by the soft, pillowy nose because this wine positively erupts with punchy pineapple, passionfruit and lime-driven flavours. Clean and minerally to finish, it’s a sure-fire hit with seafood of any description. Good wine stores and supermarkets will stock this or visit
Sacred Hill HALO Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2008 $26
Heavenly aromas of hotcross buns, Christmas pudding, pickled walnuts and pepper numb the nostrils while the tastebuds are coated with warm, plump and plummy flavours which leave a lovely, clinging finish. Dangerously easy to drink and perfect with old-fashioned leg of lamb studded with rosemary and garlic. Widely available