Monday, 27 June 2011

Au Revoir Les Beaux Cailloux

Homesick for my old stomping ground, one thing guaranteed to fill me with jubilation and fluffy rays of sunshine is being given the chance to spend a few hours back in my beloved Hawke’s Bay. But a recent sojourn to check on how things were looking in Craggy Range’s Gimblett Gravels vineyard had me reaching for the Prozac.  Adjacent to their state-of-the-art Highway 50 Winery and smack in the middle of some of New Zealand’s finest syrah and Bordeaux reds is a collection of vines responsible for one of my favourite New Zealand wines, the Les Beaux Cailloux chardonnay.  French for ‘the beautiful pebbles’, it’s a chardonnay which oozes elegance and sophistication and its so sublime I’ve actually been known to dribble a little bit whenever a glass is poured in front of me. 
Rod Easthope, Craggy Range
And yet the vines which have given me so much pleasure over the last decade have been reduced to little more than stumps. “You might’ve noticed some severe pruning going on” says Rod Easthope, Craggy’s chief winemaker.  “We’ve chain-sawed them off and they’ll be removed” he says as I stifle a wail.  “When you plant a 100ha vineyard it’s hard to predict what you’ll need in ten, twenty, fifty years time and you’re not always going to get it right.  But I reckon Steve (Smith MW, and Rod’s boss) got it about 80% right in terms of our varietal mix here which is a good first stab at it”. 
Some of these chardonnay plants were also being affected with leaf roll virus year after year.  “This chardonnay was good but it wasn’t the best in the world; and if it’s compromising the rest of your vineyard containing potentially world-beating reds, then it’s a no-brainer that you’ve got to sacrifice it.”  I reluctantly concur. Then Rod adds “and hopefully the next generation can be standing here next to a 50 year-old healthy merlot vine producing something pretty special.”
Ensuring consistent quality fruit isn’t an easy task.  “But the interesting part of the Gimblett gravels is tens of thousands of years ago when these rivers were actually flowing and creating the gravel, there was very little volcanic activity in New Zealand. So there’s no real fertile topsoil, it’s just silt and stone. This provides some amazing benefits because when the rain does come it drains straight through the soil.  We’re always trying to confuse our vines into thinking that they need to ripen their fruit quickly or they’ll cark it”. 
But surely that’s not all it takes to eke out the best from your vines? 
Oyster shells reflect valuable UV rays back up into the canopy.
"Think about New Zealand wines being ripened by the sun rather than by heat"
 says Rod Easthope, Winemaker.
According to Rod there’s also a lot of cultural work to be done to make sure their fruit reaches ideal ripeness and intensity, and it doesn’t come easily.  One thing I immediately notice is the high-density planting with narrow rows and short spaces between each vine. “This increases the number of vines per hectare which is a good way to utilise our site” Rod explains, “it kick-starts inter-vine competition which exhausts the available resources and you begin to see a ‘bonsai’ effect. Everything becomes dwarfed, creating smaller vines and most important for us - smaller bunches and smaller berries. That means more extract, more colour, more tannin and more flavour.” 
“We also train our vines slightly lower than what’s considered normal in New Zealand to take advantage of the ‘electric blanket’ effect from the stones. This gives the canopy some extra warmth which might just be the thing that gets you across the line.  We also bunch-thin to one bunch per shoot.”  
Left unchecked they’d happily sprout 3 or 4 bunches per shoot, but with grapes the correlation between yield and quality is definitely less is more.  Part magpie, my eyes are also drawn to the sparkly white things scattered underneath a row of merlot.  “We’ve got a little bit of an oyster shell trial here” he explains.  “Over in Bordeaux they’ve got similar gravelly sites, but there’s also lot of ‘white stone’ material there as well so we thought we’d have a crack at it”.  Remember that scene in ‘The Young Ones’ where Neil the hippy, fearful of nuclear bombs, paints himself white to deflect the blast?  It’s the same concept; the whiteness of the oyster shells reflects the suns rays away from the soil and back up into the canopy to help ripen the fruit faster. 
We may not reach the same high temperatures that other countries do, but one thing we do have plenty of is UV. We’re about 30% higher in UV here than our corresponding latitudes in the northern hemisphere, so it’s a significant factor. Rod agrees.  “When I host people from overseas I tell them to think about New Zealand wines being ripened by light rather than heat and suddenly a light goes on.  That freshness, vitality and brightness in our wines suddenly all makes sense.  People get that.” 
Bonsai vines, low-training and oyster shells.  These tiny little things all have a cost and they all take some management, but collectively they help grapes ripen in a marginal climate.  “We like sites and vines that make winemakers look clever” Rod adds as we leave.  “There’s actually no accountability in my job because when the wines are really good I’ll happily take the credit and when the wines are crap you just blame the weather.  It works out well for me most years anyway.”
And now for something completely different…
Having lived in Christchurch for the last five months I’ve grown to expect the unexprected.  But when a bottle of Rex Attitude Peat Smoked Strong Golden Ale by the Yeastie Boys Brewery arrived on my doorstep it threw me into a spin.  It smelled a bit like old-school 1980’s plasticine, grandad’s tweeds and whisky-soaked silage.  It tasted super-smoky and had an unmistakeable malty tang to it.  “They said that we couldn’t use more than 5% heavy peated malt in a beer” says the back label.  “So we carefully considered their advice and went with 100% instead.” According to the Yeastie lads it’s the first time a beer has been made this way in the entire world as far as they know.  It’s got a green T-Rex on the front and is “inspired by French Techno and the whisky of Scotland’s west coast”. Confused? Me too – but in an “I like you because you’re strange” kind of way.  I’m confident that serving this beer will either win you friends or get you sent to the loony bin.  To purchase visit
Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2009 $62 êêêê½
“2009 was a tough year for chardonnay, in fact it came incredibly close to being a total disaster” says Steve Smith MW, but clearly there’s some talent in the winery because the last-ever version of this wine boasts delicate peach, spring florals and brulée aromas on the nose and a fresh, citrus-forward minerally elegance on the palate.  Crunchy-fresh, it’s still very young so I’d really love to try it again in one year’s time.
Mission Estate Hawke’s Bay Riesling 2010 $16 êêêê½
Already a gold medal winner, this snappy little riesling is scented with beeswax, honeysuckle, and white peach while crisp, clean lemon-lime flavours explode in the mouth.  It’s just sensational value for money and wickedly good with sweet chilli chicken.
Waimea ‘Trev’s Red’ 2010 $23 êêê½
This very drinkable blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec from Nelson is named after the godfather of grapegrowing on the Waimea Plains, Trev Bolitho.  It’s a food-friendly red that’s packed with personality, so if you’re a fan of plums, spicy dark berries, cocoa and coffee then this has got your name on it…well if your name is Trev that is…

Monday, 20 June 2011

Jailhouse coffee at Addington Coffee Co-op

Bleak day, doctor, dentist, one child home from school with continual sneezing.  When she hadn't sneezed for 15 minutes I decided she was well enough to come out - I needed coffee.
Addington Coffee Co-op makes the most sublime flat white, the wee one had a Phoenix Organic Cola and a piece of Louise Cake the size of a BBQ brick.  I had a salmon and spinach omelette - superb.

Friday, 17 June 2011

New look for Nautilus

“And on the left is our guest house” announces Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones as our bus tootles alongside their Kaituna Valley vineyard.  “If you’re ever in Marlborough and need a place to stay, you’re sweet there.  It’s even got an awesome dress-up box.”  It’s safe to say that at that moment everyone in the bus including myself and a bunch of too-cool-for-school Auckland restaurateurs and wine trade people, all looked sideways at each other.  “Aw c’mon, it’s not like that” back-tracks CJ, “it started ages ago when we had some visitors from the UK.  They needed costumes for a party, so we let them loose in the local Salvation Army shop with $20 each– the costumes stayed and now it’s just become a bit of a tradition”.  He can see we’re only half-believing his story and quickly quips “Ahem, oh look, ladies and gentlemen on the left is our compost heap…”

After deftly distracting us by explaining the finer points of the Bokashi method for successful decomposition, we’re given a sneak preview of their 2011 sauvignon blanc.  “These are three tank samples of sauvignon from our different vineyards with different soil types which are blended together to create the Nautilus style” says assistant winemaker Brett Bermingham. “But just remember these are unfinished wines” interjects CJ, “they’re cloudy, they’re pretty gassy and they’re really acidic.           So enjoy!”

These are three very distinctive components out of a possible 25 that CJ and Brett can use for the final blend.  I fall in love with the last one, a sauvignon from their Awatere Valley vineyard which curiously has been fermented in a 5000ltr oak cuve.  It has delicious lemon verbena, basil, passionfruit and tomato leaf characters along with a touch of toastiness.  Although Nautilus are not in the business of making ‘single vineyard’ wines, there’s every chance that because of its distinctive character, this little number “may end up one day becoming a stand-alone sauvignon” according to CJ. 

A vertical chardonnay tasting is up next, but not before we’re given a taste of Nautilus new project, Gruner Veltliner.  Gruner is the signature grape of Austria, and Nautilus has a teensy four barrels worth sourced from new vines out in Kaituna.  Amongst the group murmurs of “florals”, “nectarine stone”, “lemon”, “and chalky minerality” and “white peach” are offered.  I also love the creamy, custard-apple texture on the finish.  Plus there’s a gewürztraminer from their Renwick vineyard which I could quite happily sip on all day such is its heavenly rose-petal, ginger and lychee aromas and sweetly crisp, spicy fruit flavours.
Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones

While it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Nautilus pinot noir and think that the fruit they harvest from their Clay Hills vineyards out in the Omaka Valley is nothing short of sensational; it’s their chardonnay which really spins my wheels.  Marlborough chardonnay is something else; and sadly underrated yet when well-made it has incredible fruit intensity combined with elegant minerality, texture and length.  Crisp, clean yet dense and juicy – current favourites of mine are the Fromm La Strada 2008 and the Dog Point 2009; but chardonnay hasn’t always been a favourite for CJ.  “When I arrived here at Nautilus in 1998 I had thousands of litres of chardonnay in tank that we didn’t know what to do with and an almost equal amount in barrel that was ‘stuck’*  so back then it was a huge challenge for us to make and sell.

But I had a chardonnay epiphany a couple of years later when I was over working at Domaines des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy where I tried my first Montrachet.  I learned two things from Mr Lafon; one - always employ great-looking cellar hands, and two - that it’s ok to make just small amounts”. 
The key to great chardonnay is not to be greedy, he learned.  So these days the vineyard team at Nautilus crop the chardonnay right down to only about 2kgs per vine, whereas a few years back the vines were allowed to carry three times that amount.  “It’s all about fruit concentration and purity for us” he adds.

“I think that correlates to what’s going on in the marketplace” adds Clive Weston, head of Negociants, Nautilus’ distributor.  “The world is full of chardonnay whether it’s French, South African, Californian or Australian – so if you’re going to make chardonnay, you have to make a wine that’s distinctive so that when people see it they can tell it’s a great wine that stands out from the crowd”. 

Back in 2007 Nautilus were only making 250 cases of chardonnay, five years on the wine is still going strong albeit having developed some nutty, mealy notes alongside its still-fresh acidity and tropical fruit. 2008 saw production increase to 750 cases and the use of indigenous yeasts became the norm – and it has a funky, sweaty character to it.  Still carrying peachy, tropical notes it’s definitely more broad and creamy than the first.  2009 is a different beast altogether with deliciously fresh grapefruit, peach, tangelo and toasty characters making it ultra-fresh and flavoursome – sadly for me it’s practically sold out – but the 2010 has huge potential (see my review below). 
Extra for experts…
* ‘stuck’ fermentation is a fermentation that has stopped before all the available sugar in the wine has been converted to alcohol and CO2.
* The Nautilus shell possesses a special kind of spiral curve which often appears in nature. This logarithmic spiral, equiangular spiral or ‘growth spiral’ as it’s sometimes known is an example of nature and mathematical precision aligning to create something incredibly beautiful.  The same can be said for making great wine.

Sip of the week
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $31 êêêê½
This is an exercise in restraint and elegance, showing nectarine, citrus and lemony loveliness, tangy, toasty texture and solid length of flavour.  I’d love to try this wine again in a years time because I think its’ destined for great things.  It’s also the first chardonnay out bearing the new Nautilus label (3 years in the making) which will be rolled out over the coming months.  Available from fine wine stores or via
Sacred Hill Wine Thief Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $30 êêêê
Created from fruit sourced from the famous Riflemans vineyard out in Hawke’s Bay’s Dartmoor Vineyard.  It has downright sexy aromas of peach, buttered crumpets and honey with juicy, tropical intensity and freshness on the finish – it’s a lovely chardonnay which would suit seared scallops wrapped in bacon – sublime.
Margrain Martinborough Pinot Gris 2009 $30 êêê½
Soft quince, pear and hints of honey lead to razor-sharp dryness and minerally riverstone, lime and white peach characters.  Ultra-clean length of flavour makes this a perfect match for thai red chilli prawns.
Kaimai Brewing Co. Porters Rye Ale $4.90 330ml
Smells like marmite mixed with treacle and yet it is surprisingly fresh, with dried grassy notes, cocoa and lovely malty magic.  Clinging length of flavour and smooth, smoky texture makes this a definite new favourite for me.
Monteiths Doppelbock Winter Ale 330ml $15 (6pk)
Attractive auburn colour with a dense, creamy caramel-coloured head.  It’s unique, six-malt brewing method makes for a smoky, malt-driven aroma and smooth, bitter cocoa notes and a super-rich finish.  Yum.  Widely available. 
Mount Riley Seventeen Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 $38 êêêê½
Baked strawberry, cherry, sweet rhubarb and cocoa notes merge with lush, clean acidity, savoury spices in the mouth.  It has excellent density, weight and lovely length of flavour.   

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Fair suck of the sav' mate!

New Zealand wines banned from entering leading Australian wine shows...
In a case of fair suck of the sav’, some of New Zealand’s leading wineries have been refused permission to enter their wines in the upcoming Royal Hobart Wine Show according to an article written by Giles Hine of Royal Hobart’s reason for their stance, as given by their Chief Executive Officer Scott Gadd, is that, “After lengthy deliberations over two years the committee has decided to no longer accept entries from outside Australia. This difficult decision is the result of a feeling that the original spirit of the agreement to open the show to New Zealand winemakers has not been honoured.”

“We believed that efforts would be undertaken to ensure that Australian judges would be invited to participate in the New Zealand International Wine Show in exchange for inviting the New Zealand wine industry to our event. Unfortunately despite repeated efforts from our end over the past 2-3 years, no such invitations have been forthcoming. It was also hoped that our initiative would lead to the ability of Australian (or at least Tasmanian producers) to enter New Zealand wine shows.” 

The New Zealand International Wine Show is, and always has been, run by Kingsley Wood of First Glass in Takapuna who makes the following statement:

• All correspondence for the N.Z International Wine Show comes to me. I have never received any correspondence of any description from the Royal Hobart Wine Show, or in fact any other Australian Wine Show.
• It is a fact that both Huon Hooke and Kym Milne MW have judged at the NZ International Wine Show. On several occasions Australian winemakers have been invited but were unable to attend. This year Gynneth Olsen, winemaker at McWilliams Wines in the Hunter Valley will be judging. She is Australian.
• Earlier this year Kym Milne MW was invited to once again judge at the NZ International Wine Show but the timing of the event clashed with other judging commitments he has. Kym has asked to be included in next year’s panel.
• Tasmanian wines are regularly entered into the NZ International Wine Show. In fact many of the categories are usually dominated by Australian wines.
• The NZ International Wine Show is now in its 7th year. From memory the Royal Hobart Wine Show has been in place and accepted New Zealand entries for many more than the 7 years of the NZ International Wine Show. I am therefore at a loss in attempting to understand how there could have been any "agreement" to open the Hobart competition to NZ Wines. The timing or in fact the suggestion of any such agreement doesn't make sense. has also learned that both the Perth and Canberra wine shows have also excluded New Zealand wineries from entering. Bugger me days mate!  Where’s the ANZAC spirit in all of this?  Is Kingsley Wood’s International Wine Show being used as a scapegoat for some Australian wine industry protectionism?  After all New Zealand wines are relentlessly gaining market share there and, furthermore, the past two champion Pinot Noirs (a variety in which Tasmanian wineries pride themselves) came from New Zealand wineries.  Someone is clearly coming the raw prawn.

yours truly judging some darn lovely moscato's at the Gisborne Regional Wine Awards
Gizzy gets busy…
A week or two back I was lucky enough to be invited to be a judge at the inaugural Gisborne Regional Wine Awards along with Larry McKenna (Escarpment Vineyards) Simon Nunns (Coopers Creek), Simon Waghorn (Astrolabe), Ant McKenzie (Te Awa + Kidnapper Cliffs) and Australian wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell.  Chaired by the fabuous Jane Skilton MW, it was a fantastic event which really opened my eyes to what Gisborne is capable of.  Chardonnay still reigned king with Villa Maria scooping the Supreme Wine of the Show Trophy for the now iconic wine, the Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2009, with the 2010 vintage also walking away with a Gold medal.
Villa Maria founder and Managing Director, Sir George Fistonich commented on the awards: “Fourteen years ago we found our prime vineyard sites in Gisborne, after searching for days by helicopter to find the perfect and unique topography that would make these outstanding wines. Year after year this wine is consistently good, so we’re ecstatic to have it recognised as the best in the region.”
Marlborough Wine and Food goes high tech
With less than 100 days until the Rugby World Cup hits New Zealand, Wine Marlborough Ltd (organisers of the long-established Marlborough Wine Festival) has launched ticket sales for its unique Marlborough Wine and Cuisine event to be held at Brancott Vineyard on Thursday 6 October 2011.  Hoping to lure international visitors keen on seeking a wine and food experience, the team at Wine Marlborough Ltd are hoping to sell around 4000 tickets to their event.
Tickets cost $55 and Wine Marlborough are using a new ‘card ticketing’ concept supplied by – a unique online paperless ticketing solution and New Zealand’s only card based ticketing platform.  Each card is personalised with the ticket purchaser’s name and account number.  The new system also offers the benefit of eliminating the issues associated with lost, stolen and counterfeit cards.  If the ticket is lost or stolen, the account attached to the card is simply cancelled. 
Coupled with this is a revolutionary iPhone application which allows people to purchase tickets using their iPhone.  The iPhone app scans the quick-reference (or QR) code on a poster, flyer or advert and the ticket page is loaded automatically. The ticket can then be scanned from the iPhone for entry into the event.
Wine Marlborough’s Event Manager Andrea Craig is excited about the new ticketing solution and sees its potential for the organisation’s events longer term.  “We are running an international event with Marlborough Wine and Cuisine, and we felt that using an innovative ticketing system that international audiences were comfortable using, would add to this event’s professionalism and appeal.”

Sip of the week

Saint Clair Godfrey’s Creek Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 $25 4 stars
Nashi pear, crème caramel and quince aromas lead to a silky, oily, citrus and apple-skin character on the finish.  It has crispness and richness at the same time making this a fantastic autumn sip – just don’t chill it too much
Shoestring Wines ‘Lil’ Rippa’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $12  3.5 stars
This wine is produced from fruit grown in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley and it’s just lovely.  Oozing lime, lemon, passionfruit and all those classic herbaceous aromas like crushed nettles and basil – all those things wash forward onto the palate.  A very drinkable sauvignon that’s crisp, vibrant and tangy – and really leaves an impression on the tastebuds.  There’s a lot of ‘ok’ sub-$10 sauvignon out there but if you just fish around for another 5 bucks it’s amazing the quality you’ll find.
Seresin Sun & Moon Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 $125 5 stars
Try to think of this as less of a wine and more of an incredibly sensuous experience.  Great pinot noir has mystery.  It confuses even the experts who struggle to pinpoint exact aromas and flavours because the wine changes in the glass and offers layer upon layer of beguiling character.  The sun and moon is a rare wine only produced in exceptional years using organic, biodynamic methods.  Roasting pan juices, dried herbs, aromatic bitter chocolate, cherry, autumn forest-floor notes and a burst of baking spices open the gate  for luscious, savoury fruit, smoky oak and an elegant, emery-like, mouthcoating texture to finish.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Special releases from Hawke’s Bay Royalty

Tom McDonald (far left) towering over his vineyard workers
In late 2009, ten years after the release of the iconic Bordeaux blend TOM, Church Road Winery put a new stake in the ground with the release of a white counterpart – Church Road TOM Chardonnay 2006. The wine became a benchmark for serious New Zealand Burgundian-style whites just as the original TOM did for Bordeaux style reds.
Produced in exceptional years, the second release of Church Road winery’s meticulously crafted; prestige chardonnay is definitely a big event.
“Church Road TOM Chardonnay is our flagship chardonnay named in honour of the late Tom McDonald, an early pioneer of quality wine production in Hawke’s Bay and the patriarch of the Church Road winery for over 50 years”, said Chris Scott, senior winemaker for Church Road.  “The wine is a barrel by barrel selection of the very best hand-harvested Chardonnay parcels, blended to produce a wine of great depth and character. Only the very lowest cropping blocks are considered for this wine, which in combination with gentle, low-intervention winemaking techniques produces wines with complexity, power and elegance,” says Chris.  Each bottle of Church Road TOM Chardonnay 2009 is individually numbered and hand finished.
Brother Cyprian Huchet
Also New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate has announced the inaugural release of Huchet, a tribute to one of the Missions founding fathers Brother Cyprian Huchet.  Over one hundred and seventy years ago, a small, brave group of French missionaries sailed to New Zealand, bringing little more than their faith, their generations of winemaking experience and a few precious vine cuttings.  Cyprian, the son of a winemaker from the Loire followed them and later rose to the position of Mission Estate Cellar Master and guided the brothers toward commercial production. 
Fast forward to 2011, the Huchet Syrah represents the epitome of winemaking prowess for Mission winemaker Paul Mooney and his team.  The Mission have been somewhat of a sensation in recent years for releasing incredible value-for-money sleepers like their Estate Syrah  and Chardonnay at around $18 a bottle, but I’d been wondering if they’d stashed away anything secretly magnificent down in the cellar and now the mystery is solved.
New World Wine Awards Chairman
of Judges Jim Harre
New World Wine Awards Call for Entries
Nowadays the road to becoming a successful small winery (or even a half-flash large one) is littered with obstacles.  Our high dollar inhibiting export prospects, an oversupply issue creating a lake of cheap wine being lapped up by consumers and of course being at the mercy of Mother Nature at every turn in the winemaking cycle is enough to turn anyone prematurely grey and fragile.  Combine those issues with the age-old chestnut of finding national distribution and you’re really in trouble. 
But here’s where wine producers could get lucky.  Entries are now open for the 2011 New World Wine Awards, and in addition to the distinction of an award, the competition guarantees winning winemakers national distribution and extensive brand exposure which will drive sales.
“The awards are a key channel for reaching discerning consumers who enjoy high quality, affordable wine. The rigour of the judging process and the strong impact success has on sales means that winemakers value the competition very highly,” said Jim Harré, Chair of the judging panel.
Over 210,000 bottles of Top 50 wines valued at $2.8 million were sold at New World stores nationally within six weeks of the 2010 awards. The extensive programme of marketing activity associated with the awards – including advertising, in-store promotion, direct marketing to shoppers and a strong online presence – also means that winning winemakers benefit from brand-building over the long-term. 
The awards are the premier consumer-focused awards competition in New Zealand because affordability and availability of the wines are key criteria for entry. Wines entered into the competition must retail for below $25 per bottle, and there must be at least 500 cases of each wine available for sale. So there you go, it’s a no-brainer – but you’ve got to be in it to win it and entries close on June 3rd.
Turanga Creek Vineyard Manager Margaret Boswell

Turanga Creek Certified Organic!

I love finding out that another winery has been certified organic and this week it’s Auckland’s turn.  The team at Turanga Creek are fizzing with the news that their vineyards out in Whitford are now officially organic, and they’re full-steam ahead toward Bio-dynamic production.
“We have been in conversion to organics for years and are now fully certified with Biogro as of March 2011, being the first vineyard in the Auckland Region to do this” says owner Mandy Allen. “It’s been a fascinating journey with many trials and tribulations.  The last year has seen many changes, the planting of vegetable gardens and orchard block, growing bio-dynamic preparations and learning how to implement them.  We've built our cow pat pit, so we're on our way!”
More information can be found at and 2011 will be their first fully certified organic vintage.


Mission Estate Huchet Syrah 2007 $100 êêêêê
Only 1657 bottles were produced of this wine, which was 5 years in the making and blended from two parcels of fruit from targeted vines in Mission Estate’s Mere Road vineyard in the famed Gimblett Gravels district in Hawke’s Bay. Impenetrable and glossy in the glass, the elegantly spicy aromas of dark chocolate, pepper, rose and sweet smoke are followed by ripe plum and berryfruit flavours and an addictive velvety texture.  It’s an incredibly sexy, saucy syrah (I feel weird describing a wine named after a missionary that way, but it’s true).   I’ll bet the pleasure you’ll get by owning a bottle of this will beat the pants off the last thing you spend $100 on. 

Church Road TOM Chardonnay 2009 $70 êêêêê
Chardonnay lovers rejoice!  The second coming of the lord of the lees has produced a wine with sublime elegance, power and intensity and best of all, certain longevity.  Intoxicating aromas of stonefruit and citrus lead to fig and toasted nut flavours followed by layers of tangy, tropical fruit.  Clean and beautifully balanced, it’s simply stunning. Available from select fine wine retailers and restaurants alternatively contact the winery

Devils Staircase Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 $24 êêê½
Produced by the talented team at Rockburn Wines, the Devil's Staircase grapes were grown in Rockburn's Gibbston and Parkburn Vineyards and the name is inspired by the scary descent on the road from Queenstown to Kingston, along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. But there’s nothing scary in the drinking with lush cherry, berry and plum notes and a gentle, smooth juiciness on the finish.  Better still you can find it in supermarkets everywhere.

Valkyrie Brynhild Golden Ale $6.49 500ml
Promoted as ‘beer for more than mere mortals’ this golden ale definitely has a touch of otherworldliness about it.  Modelled on the story of a famous Valkyrie, Brynhild, this first beer of Valkyrie Brewing Co has a tasty, nutty aroma and its full-bodied, malty, hoppy flavour is fleshed out with a special addition of Hokey Pokey (or “sponge toffee”). Love it! To buy email
Mission Estate Gewurztraminer 2010 $14 êêêê
A snappy little aromatic with real character and representing fantastic value for money.  Lovely lychee, ginger and exotic spices merge with crisp tropical notes, a round, ripe mouthfeel and tangy length of flavour.  Great stuff, and widely available.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Weather we like it or not...

“Thank god we got the last of our reds in before the rain!” sighs a relieved Mel Lawson from Cypress Wines in Hawke’s Bay.  “It is just horrible here, hosing down in fact.  But there are growers out there with fruit still on the vines, so I’ve got no idea how they’ll get on”.  That was the state of play on April 26th, the day before the region experienced severe flooding on the tail end of what’s been a pretty rough year for most North Island wine regions.  “We’re all ok here” said Clearview Estate’s Tim Turvey, “The rest of Te Awanga is a bit of a train wreck though.  With a bit of fruit still to come in “it’ll be a very late harvest” he adds.
Wet and wild La Nina weather patterns put a real dampener on the 2011 ripening season, and while north island farmers will be gleefully gambolling around in their gumboots, predicting prolific grass growth; our winegrowers greet autumn rain with fists in the air and foul language. Rain encourages bunch rot (botrytis) and thirsty vines soak up water like a sponge, distributing that water up into the berries. This then causes the berries to swell and dilutes those intense, concentrated flavours needed to create fabulous wine.   
Nelson has also had it tough with growers really battling the conditions to manage crop spoilage from things like slip-skin and acetobacter, bacteria which can give the grapes a vinegar-like flavour, but wineries like Waiheke Island’s Destiny Bay have adopted the very expensive but extremely effective method of loading all the fruit onto sorting tables where only the best individual berries are selected to go into the ferment.  Marlborough is the powerhouse of New Zealand’s production and they’re putting a positive spin on things with growers saying that most grapes in Marlborough have been harvested and winemakers are hoping for a good end to the vintage despite the heavy rain.  They’re also not worried about fruit still on the vines with Constellation New Zealand’s viticulture and winemaking manager Darryl Woolley saying that this late in the season canopies were shutting down, so dilution of flavours by vines taking up moisture from the soil shouldn’t be a problem.
What could be a problem though, according to some North Island growers of those big, full-bodied red varieties like syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon is that while most of the fruit was bought in flavour-ripe, the sugar levels weren’t as high as they’d usually like.  “It just means we’ll have to be careful and creative in the winery” shrugs Mel.  It could be a blessing in disguise as lower alcohol levels may mean a swing to the more elegant, gentle red styles that the French are so famed for.
Wine lovers with a sweet tooth won’t be left wanting as the weather across the regions is ideal for fans of the sweet, sticky dessert styles.  All this extra moisture and mild daytime temperatures mean botrytis will lay claim to those aromatic whites such as gewürztraminer and riesling, encouraging the berries to shrivel, concentrating all those gorgeous honey, toffee and stonefruit flavours and making me a happy girl indeed.
Two for One Coleraine! 
Are you the owner of a bottle of 2005 Te Mata Coleraine?  Then the team at Te Mata Estate want to hear from you.  They’re in a pickle because they were so impressed with Coleraine 2005 at their Showcase 2011 tastings held around the country recently, that they realised they need more of this wine for their own cellar.  So, they’re asking New Zealanders “if you have Coleraine ‘05 then we want to talk to you”.  Te Mata will exchange your Coleraine in a two-for-one deal. Every bottle of Coleraine ’05 gets you two bottles of Coleraine ’07.  Call Sally Duncan now on 06 877 4399 or email if you’re interested in turning your good Coleraine into two excellent Coleraines.  
Medieval Beer Fest
If your memories of the Oktoberfest in Germany on your O.E back in the day are foggy at best, you can relive some of the glory over in Taranaki at the inaugural Mike’s Brewery Medieval Beer Fest.  Held on Saturday 21st May from 2pm – 11pm, it’ll be a grand opportunity to sample sensational organic beers, enjoy Medieval entertainment (jousting anyone?), an authentic Medieval feast, a free collectors drinking vessel, a groovy live band and best of all there’s buses to and from New Plymouth and Hawera so driving isn’t even in the equation!
Just remember to swap your lederhosen for tights, pointy shoes and a tunic of some description.  Suits of armour are also encouraged and even court jesters will be tolerated.
Situated on Main North Road Urenui, the team at Mike’s Organic Brewery want to make the event world famous in Taranaki, so if you’re keen to venture westward tickets are available from or you can email
A taste of their own medicine…
Italian-born kiwi winery owner Antonio Pasquale has recently returned from Italy with an excellent, yet slightly unusual export order.  Hundreds of cases of his Waitaki Valley Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio as it is known in Italy) have been ordered by high end restaurants in Milan and other Italian cities.  The unusual thing is that pinot gris is one of the signature grapes of Italy, very widely planted and is incredibly popular over there – so why would they want any from New Zealand?  “It’s a little like coals to Newcastle” says Antonio.  The wine is delicious; I can vouch for that, but being the only kiwi winery at Vinitaly, one of the worlds largest wine fairs definitely helped.  “We were the only NZ winery there, and despite being hidden away we were the only ones with long queues to taste our wines.  The Italians were stunned by the clarity and minerality in our pinot gris” he shrugs.  The expo attracted a record 156,000 people over three days.
Four of the Best
Man O War Gravestone Sauvignon Semillon 2010 $34 (5 Stars)
70% sauvignon blended with 30% semillon has created a masterpiece in this snappy, incredibly complex white.  Intense aromas of crushed green herbs, passionfruit, wild flowers, dandelions and hay – seriously it’s that good.  Tangy, herbaceous and crisply elegant –this is definitely one wine you won’t forget in a hurry.  Buy from fine wine stores or via
Spinyback Nelson Chardonnay 2009 $16 (4 Stars)
Fantastic value for money here!  Loaded with grapefruit, lemon and lovely tropical melony notes fringed with some toasty, nutty notes on the finish.  An absolute crowd-pleaser that has ‘drink me with roast chicken’ written all over it plus money from the sale of every bottle goes toward saving our own Spinyback, the Tuatara. Widely available or visit to buy.
Mikes Organic Brewery Imperial Porter 750ml $15
The pitch black and brooding Imperial Porter by Mike’s Organic Brewery is a heavyweight at 8.0%ABV and boasts molasses, tar and creamy, smoky flavours.  I love this beer with roast duck on a bed of garlicy mashed spuds and swimming in red wine sauce.  For stockists visit
Urlar Gladstone Riesling 2010 $25 (4 Stars)
Beautiful green apple and lemon aromas followed by punchy, tangy acidity and deliciously dry lemon verbena flavours on the finish – this organic, biodynamically produced riesling is lipsmackingly good.  Buy from fine wine stores or via

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Easter Sipping

Eager for Easter Sips

There’s nothing like a public holiday, nay a ‘religious’ holiday to get the festive juices working and the wine thirst calling.  We start planning where we’re going to be, or who’ll be coming around.  There could also be a bit of panic about what we’re going to eat because chances are it’s very likely to be the last time we use the barbeque.  Do we need to make peace with granddad because we haven’t seen him since Waitangi weekend? Is it our turn to do Easter lunch this year?  Have we bought enough Easter eggs for the kids?  So naturally we start thinking about wine.
Parents the length and breadth of the country are also in the midst of a very busy fortnight.  For me, school holidays conjure up daydreams of spending my days baking hot cross buns, pottering around in the garden, bottling fruit, visiting playgrounds and sewing dolls clothes with my little cherubs just like my mum did when I was little.  But after a couple of days of trying my hardest to work and keep the house clean and entertain the children with arty, crafty things, what I usually end up with are frustrated, scratchy little cretins suffering from Easter egg overload who demand that I please send them to the YMCA because home is so boring.  So again I find myself thinking about wine.

At least it’s autumn.  I adore autumn.  The firewood’s been delivered and safely stacked away, the electric blanket is dusted off, the rhubarb is ripe and piles of sweet-scented feijoas start appearing in my favourite fruit and veg shops. The figs are fit to bursting; foraging for edible fungus becomes a full-time occupation and best of all it’s quite acceptable to wear long pants every day, which is great because my summer tan is already a shadow of its former self.  Autumn is about wrapping up in something warm to catch the last of the afternoon sun, while sitting on my front step clutching a glass of something crisp and aromatic.

‘Aromatic’ is a term given to a group of white wines where so much of their appeal lies in their extremely distinctive aromas.  Wines like Riesling with its honeyed, floral, apple, lime and mineral aromas, Pinot Gris and its pear and quince notes, Viognier with it’s orange peel and spicy stone fruit and Gewurztraminer’s distinctive lychee, rose petal and spicy characters.  These wines, as a general rule are made without oak, and are matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve these bright, fresh, spritzy characters that make them famous.  However, the down side is that due to their delicate nature and high acidity, these wines are also highly prone to spoilage, so once the bottle is opened it will need to be consumed immediately.  Screwcaps will help it live overnight as will a vacuvin pump – but please don’t think you can leave an open bottle of aromatic wine in the fridge for a week and have it live up to your expectations. 

I won’t attempt to go into who grows the best examples of these styles because you know what?  Great aromatic wines are produced right across New Zealand; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Each November the Canterbury A&P Show hosts the International Aromatic Wine Competition which brings out the best of the best of these styles.  Last year, West Auckland winery Westbrook took out the Supreme Champion Trophy with their Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010.

I love aromatic wines because they go so well with Asian food which my husband and I are addicted to, but they’re also sensational with flavours of a Spanish persuasion, and if you don’t believe me crack any aromatic and enjoy with my never-fail, Feijoa Firecracker Salsa.

  • 8 feijoas, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
  •  ½ cup diced capsicum (try a mixture of red, yellow and orange if you can for extra colour)
  • Juice of 2 limes, (about 1/4 cup juice)
  • 1 level tsp freshly chopped red chilli (or ½tsp minced chilli from a jar)
  • 2 tblsp chopped coriander
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or sweet onion

 Mix everything together and plough into it.

Beer for Brekkie?
As if they didn’t have a beer for every occasion already, the team at Moa have started brewing a Breakfast Beer.
A blend of premium wheat malt, floral Nelson hops and cherries, Moa Breakfast was launched last week at a trendy café in Auckland; but don’t let that put you off because it’s actually pretty good. Brewer Josh Scott and his father Allan would occasionally compliment a leisurely breakfast with beer, which got Josh thinking that if people could enjoy champagne at breakfast time, why not beer? The Breakfast brew has an alcohol content of 5.5%. Like champagne, it is bottle fermented and conditioned and is sealed with a cork, muselet and foil.
Additional ‘Moa Breakfast’ events are set to be held in Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown over the coming months.
Moa Breakfast is available in 375ml bottles in selected stores and premium cafes, bars and restaurants, and a four-pack of Moa Breakfast will cost you around $34. 


Lawsons Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 $26 êêêê
Big and blousy, but beautiful nonetheless.  I love this style of Gewurz, with its luscious lychee, rose and peach aromas pierced with ginger and it’s fleshed out with some sweetness and spice on the back palate.   Lawson’s are masters of the lengthy finish and this wine definitely leaves an impression, particularly if you pair it with Thai Larb Gai.
Georges Road Block Three Waipara Riesling 2010 $23 êêêê½
A few years making wine in Germany clearly infected Kirk Bray with the riesling bug and this superb example has subtle jazz apple, feijoa and lipsmacking lime notes underpinned with beautifully balanced acidity and superb persistence of flavour.  Gentle, wild fermentation gives this riesling extra depth and a hint of funk.
Rock Ferry Central Otago Viognier 2008 $29 êêêê
Classic aromas of orange zest, cinnamon, jasmine and tangy citrus oil lead to an ultra-clean and lean palate, punctuated by chalky minerality, fruit complexity and elegant length.  Super-tasty with pork spare ribs slathered in Hoisin sauce and sizzled under the grill.

The Mussel Inn Captain Cooker Manuka Beer 5%alc $5 330ml
Using organic malts, hops and water sourced from a tiny stream in the hills behind the brewery, this little outfit from Onekaka in Nelson’s Golden Bay area is turning out some seriously tasty tipples.  The ‘cooker is their signature brew and it boasts a rich, nutty molasses-like aroma, a smooth, creamy texture in the mouth with a hint of anise followed by tangy, ribsticking length of flavour.  Also available in 1.3lt PET $8.85.  For stockists in your area or to order visit
Kurow Village Cricklewood Pinot Gris 2010 $24 êêêê½
Produced from North Otago fruit this is hands down one of the loveliest pinot gris I’ve tried in ages.  Scented with classic apple, pear and quince, it delivers a crisp, clean burst of vibrant citrus which morphs into spicy strudel notes on the finish.  If you’re a plate of cumin seed gouda, fruit paste and oatcakes I’d be very afraid.