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.

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